More than 10,000 residents were ordered to evacuate their homes in the central part of the US state of Michigan this week after heavy rain caused two dams to fail, triggering what officials warned will be historic flooding.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Midland County, the site of the breached dams, in the towns of Edenville and Sanford.
The National Weather Service warned of life-threatening flash flooding and joined the governor in urging people in the area to seek higher ground immediately.
The downtown area of Midland, a city of about 42,000 people, was under feet of water, according to Whitmer, who warned of “historic” high flood levels.
The city said on its website that 11,000 people were evacuating, and that no deaths had been reported.
Authorities said the Tittabawassee River that flows through Midland has reached 35 feet (10.6 metres), well above flood stage and one foot higher (0.3 metres) than the previous record level set in 1986.
The river is expected to rise another three feet (about a metre) before cresting.
Images taken from helicopters show vast stretches of land underwater, bridges washed away, and homes and buildings flooded.
The flooding disaster and the evacuation are being compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced people to observe social distancing.
“It’s hard to believe that we are in the midst of a 100-year crisis – a global pandemic – and that also we’re dealing with a flooding that looks to be the worst in 500 years,” Whitmer said on Wednesday, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor urged those evacuating to shelters to wear face masks and maintain social distancing when possible due to the COVID-19 crisis.