Sanford and Midland work to rebuild, one year after dam failures

A year since the devastating dam failed in Midland, the recovery effort is far from over.

In the middle of what used to be Wixom Lake sits a lonely bench, an abandoned boat, weeds, and shells from the lake. What once was billions of gallons of water is now just dry land, one year after the dam broke and flooded the town of Midland.

"I guess, you know, a lot of it was a blur but you know. It's just - I think we're all getting to the point where it's the new normal," said Mark Musselman.

As he drives us across the lake where he's lived since 1966, he notes that he'd typically do this on a boat - but that hasn't been the case since the rain a year ago - when his whole life changed.

"They were forecasting some rain and we seen the rain coming but nobody had any idea that anything like this could ever happen," he said.

RELATED: Wixom Lake held 21.5 billion gallons - and it emptied in one hour

His life wasn't the only one that would change, of course, when the 500-year flood breached the Edenville Dam after several inches of rain fell that night.

Water and debris were everywhere and it was like an explosion when the Sanford Dam failed, destroying homes and draining lakes.

"If we wouldn't have left - we both would have died because the water came up so fast," Carl Hamann said.

Carl is a city councilman for the village of Sanford and said once the dam was breached, he had 40 minutes to get out. When he went back, his house was in shambles.

"My Corvette was inside the house - my 84 Corvette. My Geo Tracker was sitting in the front yard," he said.

And others had it even worse.

"All of the houses on that side of the rail trail - are gone - about 15 of them," he said. "And they're just walking around in a daze. I walked around in a daze for two days. It's not easy let me tell you. I consider myself a pretty strong guy but I've cried a lot in the last year."

Hamann and so many others are trying to rebuild as Sanford has lost homes, residents, and businesses.  

"Out of 33 businesses - five were operating," Hamann said. "We have these multi-millions of dollars of reconstruction to do - to make it a community again. We'll do it, not sure how."

RELATED: Wixom Lake in Midland County is virtually empty after two catastrophic dam failures

Attorney Ven Johnson said 10,000 claims have been filed related to the disaster as dozens of law firms across the country are suing the dam owner and the state.  

"We need the state to step up, do the right thing and take care of these people," Johnson said.

The damage is extensive, but the help has been, too. The people in the community of Midland have come together in the past year to help their neighbors in this time of need.

"That's the way this whole community has been, it's come together. Midland county has come together," Hamann said. "We're coming back."