Whitmer requests federal disaster declaration, aid for $245M in flood damage

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday requested a major disaster declaration from President Donald Trump for $245 million in damage widespread flooding caused in five Michigan counties last month. 

The damage done in Midland, Gladwin, Arenac, Iosco and Saginaw counties amounted to roughly $190 million in losses for residents and $55 million in damage to public infrastructure, according to the 50-page request Whitmer sent to Trump on Monday. 

Flooding along the Tittabawassee River near the corner of Gordon and Anne, with the green roof of the Midland Area Farmers Market in background, in downtown Midland, Michigan on May 20, 2020.

If Trump grants a major disaster declaration, the area will become qualified for federal aid in the form of individual assistance and public assistance. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also works with the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is often able to provide low-interest loans in times of emergency. 

“This natural disaster, coupled with a global health pandemic, has created enormous stress and emotional trauma for these residents, and they need the federal government’s help to begin rebuilding their lives," Whitmer said in a statement Monday. 

Midland and Gladwin counties were hit particularly hard in mid-May, when an area of low pressure dropped several inches of rain between May 17 and May 19. The rainfall eventually led to breaches at the Edenville and Sanford dams on the Tittabawassee River on May 19.  

The flood is estimated to have been between a 200-year and 500-year weather event. 

Randy Mier of Gladwin has spent the last few weeks running four sump pumps in his basement to draw down the water levels in his home. But his neighbors have not been as lucky as they have had to rip up flooring and pull out drywall. 

Others are being told they'll pay an average of $5,000 each to dig their wells deeper after the floods affected water availability, Mier said. 

The 64-year-old had a mounting feeling of desertion and discouragement Monday as help from insurance companies, the state and federal government remained elusive. He was doubtful of prospective federal help. 

"This is 2020," Mier said. "Put your (butt) in a helicopter and fly over here to see the damages.

"We’re three weeks into this and FEMA hasn’t knocked on our door yet. If they take any longer, they may as well not show up.”

In addition to home damages, washed-out roads and bridges, and destroyed businesses, more than 300 residences in Gladwin County have lost access to wells that have come up dry, according to Whitmer's Monday letter to Trump. Residents in Midland County are reporting low water pressure and others lost natural gas and phone service. 

Homes that were once considered lakefront property now border bowls of mud and sand, farm crops and buildings are damaged, brownfield sites were disturbed, and many residents, including those in nursing homes, experienced emotional trauma as they dealt with evacuation and destroyed properties, according to Whitmer.

In total, 52 homes were destroyed, 907 sustained major damage, 740 minor damage and 642 affected by the disaster, according to the letter. About 86% of the homes affected do not have flood insurance.

After the flooding, 4,675 unemployment claims were filed from residents in Midland, Gladwin, Arenac, Iosco and Saginaw counties. 

"As you can see, the jurisdictions in the disaster area do not have the financial resources available to fully recover from this 500-year-flood disaster in a timely manner, or potentially at all in some cases, without receiving supplemental assistance from the federal government," Whitmer wrote in her letter. 

For Dave Cryderman, help is sorely needed to get his Hook Party Store and Tavern in Hope Township on Wixom Lake back into fighting shape. Before the virus and flood, Cryderman had put in a new seawall, fixed the boat ramp, bought new tables and fixed up the bar. 

"I’ve got a hundred feet on the water, three docks and a boat ramp and all there is is dirt," he said. 

When the waters rose the shop was flooded with 20 inches of water. Cryderman lost products, filing cabinets, coolers, chest freezers and paperwork.

"I just can’t catch a break," Cryderman said. "It could be worse, but it's pretty bad. It’s been a test.”