Whitmer issues state of emergency ahead of cold

Detroit News staff and wire reports
The QLINE makes its way through the snow up Woodward Ave. in downtown Detroit as a winter storm hits Michigan on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

Lansing – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed an order declaring a state of emergency in Michigan ahead of dangerous subzero weather .

Whitmer said Tuesday her move will harness government resources and ensure the public “understands the seriousness” of the once-in-a-generation cold snap.

In the morning, the governor toured the Cristo Rey Community Center in Lansing, one of the capital city’s designated warming areas that includes a food pantry and provides meals for residents in need. 

After meeting with staff and volunteers at the facility, Whitmer helped make a batch of guacamole and served lunch to a few local residents, telling reporters she wanted to highlight “some of the great things that are happening in our state” amid the cold front. 

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said the city’s homeless shelters are “overloaded.”

Whitmer also activated the State Emergency Operations Center. It coordinates response efforts by state agencies and local governments during emergencies.

Wind chill factors may drop to as low as negative 45 degrees from Tuesday night through Thursday morning. Michigan State University has suspended Wednesday classes. Some Grand Rapids-area highways were closed Tuesday due to pileups.

The emergency declaration will allow the state to harness response resources and help the public “understand how serious this situation is,” Whitmer said. “This is an event unlike any we’ve seen in a generation, and I think it’s really important that we protect people.”

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon accompanied Whitmer and reminded that residents who need emergency heating assistance can dial 211. He said the state is changing the way it processes calls to be more responsive and reduce waiting times. 

Schor said his administration is working with partner organizations to open additional warming centers, but his city’s biggest issue is overcrowding at over-night shelters.

“We’re overloading them because we can’t have people outside in negative 35-degree weather,” Schor said.   “The way we see it now, everybody brings their neediest folks right into Lansing regardless of where they’re from in the region. We’ve got 5,000 homeless throughout the region, and they all come here.” 

Schor said it’s not clear how Lansing will pay to for additional shelters or hours, but he noted that after flooding last year, the state worked with the city to secure funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

“We want to have that conversation, but we want to have it after… we’ve gotten past this,” he said. 

Jonathan Oosting contributed.