( NBC NEWS) - About 10,000 people in central Michigan were told to evacuate their homes after rapidly rising water overwhelmed dams, creating a "life-threatening situation," the National Weather Service said.
"Seek higher ground now!" the weather service in Detroit warned those near the Tittabawassee River and connected lakes in Midland County on Tuesday night, saying a flash-flood emergency would be in place until morning after “catastrophic" failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams.
The Tittabawassee River is expected to crest at 38 feet in Midland on Wednesday morning, breaking the record of 33.9 feet set during a 500-year flood event in 1986.
“If you have not evacuated the area, do so now and get somewhere safe,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, while declaring a state of emergency.
Whitmer said Tuesday night that downtown Midland, a city of 42,000 about 120 miles north of Detroit, faced an especially serious flooding threat.
“In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water," the governor said. "We are anticipating an historic high water level.”
“This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County. If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now. If you don’t, go to one of the shelters that have opened across the county," Whitmer said.
Dow Chemical Co.'s main plant sits on the city's riverbank. A spokeswoman said the plant has activated its emergency operations center and will be adjusting operations as a result of flood-stage conditions.
It was the second time in 24 hours that many families in the area were told to leave their homes.
Emergency responders went door to door early Tuesday morning warning residents living near the Edenville Dam of the rising water. Some residents were able to return home, only to be told to leave again following the dam's breach several hours later. The evacuations include the towns of Edenville, Sanford and parts of Midland, according to Selina Tisdale, spokeswoman for Midland County.
“We were back at home and starting to feel comfortable that things were calming down,” said Catherine Sias, who lives about a mile from the Edenville Dam and first left home early Tuesday morning. “All of a sudden we heard the fire truck sirens going north toward the dam.”
Sias, 45, said emergency alerts then began coming on her cellphone and people started calling to make sure she was safe.
“While packing, there were tons of police and fire trucks going up and down the roads,” she added. “As far as I know, all of our neighbors got out.”
While driving along a jammed M-30, the state highway that’s the main road through Edenville and which crosses the river north of town, Sias saw the rushing Tittabawassee River. “It was very dramatic, very fast and full of debris,” she said.
Both the Edenville and Sanford dams were rated high hazards in 2018, according to the National Inventory of Dams.
In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the license of the company that operated the Edenville Dam due to noncompliance issues that included spillway capacity and the inability to pass the most severe flood reasonably possible in the area.
Both dams are in the process of being sold.
Flood warnings in Michigan were issued following widespread rainfall of as much as 8 inches of rain between Sunday and Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. Heavy runoff pushed rivers higher.
On Wednesday, threats of torrential rain will move through Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Regions through all the states are under flash flood watches, but western North Carolina faces the greatest threat.