Wednesday News Hit: Midland threatened with catastrophic flooding, changes coming to schooling and voting

When it rains, it pours and over the weekend heavy precipitation wrought another disaster in Michigan - this time along the Tittabawassee River. Rapidly rising waters forced their way through two dams in mid-Michigan, threatening the region with catastrophic flooding and forcing thousands to evacuate. A third dam and the last barrier before the city of Midland was near "imminent failure."

Declaring her second separate state of emergency this year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged residents to seek shelter at one of several designated community centers. First responders from the National Guard, 125th Infantry, and the Red Cross have been activated and were on scene. Michigan State Police have also utilized aerial, land, and marine vehicles to provide assistance.

Whitmer warned the city of Midland could be under nine feet of water by Wednesday, due to the dam breakages. Several other towns further up the river were already flooded and had been evacuated. The natural disaster, mixed with the COVID-19 health crisis, makes for a compounding problem of public safety as residents who have been urged to socially distance and avoid others will no doubt be forced into publically enclosed areas and into shelters with other people. 

Footage of the first dam breakage at Edenville showed the man-made barrier to the right of the dam has been breached. Water from user videos and aerial footage spotted tens of thousands of gallons of water gushing through the side of breakage, eroding the sides as more poured through. It's unclear the extent of the damage to it or the Sanford Dam which also broke on Tuesday. 

Other footage in front of the Midland city hall showed standing water extending to the horizon. In the distance, the standing water was close to the Midland Farmers Market roof. 

"Watching those folks come in the building who are already vulnerable in wheelchairs and their age and the whole COVID piece and this thrown on top of it - yeah, we could see the anxiety on their face," said the school district's superintendent Michael Sharrow.

In Michigan's other state of emergency, the state has begun planning for what is likely to be a strange summer and fall for most residents. For elementary and secondary education students, their class schedule may look a little, or a lot, different

"Right now we're preparing for any number of scenarios in the fall that could include an extension of the current remote learning," said Dr. Rich Machesky, Troy schools superintendent. "Our hope is that it will include having students in a seat, in the fall in some format or another."

"Under our plan, 50 percent of the students would come - let's say, on Monday and Tuesday," said Dr. Gerald Hill, West Bloomfield School District. "The other 50 percent in any given grade level would be at home, and then on Wednesday all of the students would be remote and we would use Wednesday for cleaning the facilities and then the next group of students 50 percent, would come in on Thursday and Friday."

How does one teach a class of 30 kids when social distancing rules mandate people to stay at least six feet away from each other and wear a face mask? That's the issue that school districts are wrestling with amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which will likely extend into the later months and 2021. 

Detroit Public Schools also eyed a Labor Day reopening of face-to-face schooling as well. 

"After the School Board reviews those updated plans, they will be vetted with parents, students, school leaders, teachers, and community members for feedback during the first week in June."

Earlier in the year, Whitmer released a guide for how schools can educate students in the summer and offered guidance for opening later on. 

The Secretary of State is also pitching in ideas for what residents can expect in the summer and fall, announcing plans on Tuesday to mail applications to register as an absentee voter to every one of Michigan's eligible voters. Coming off an encouraging May election cycle that saw "record-breaking" voter turnout despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson wants to follow-up those results with an even greater effort. 

“We appreciate that some clerks are proactively protecting public health by mailing applications to all their registered voters, and we are fulfilling our responsibility to provide all voters equal access,” said Benson. “We know from the elections that took place this month that during the pandemic Michiganders want to safely vote.”

While voting remotely won't feel like the most foreign feeling to residents of a state that approved absentee voting no matter the reason, clerks will likely be counting a far greater number of mail-in ballots than they ever have before. 

Daily Forecast

Temperatures near 80 arrive for the weekend. We'll have the opportunity for showers and storms too

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