SANFORD, Mich.— For Charles Lenk, vice president of Laur Silicone Inc., it was like a scene out of movie.
But as he and his wife were forced to evacuate their home in Sanford, not once but twice to escape the flooding that hit Midland County May 19, it was a real tale they were living.
"It's pretty devastating up here," Lenk said. "The town of Sanford is pretty much gone. ... People don't have houses, people don't have businesses. It's pretty bad, a sad situation."
Lenk was luckier than many others in the Sanford and surrounding areas, as his home was high enough to avoid damage.
Heavy rains May 19 flooded the Tittabawassee River. This caused the Edenville Dam to fail that evening, and water that had made up Wixom Lake then overwhelmed the 95-year-old Sanford Dam downstream. Lenk said the Sanford Dam didn't collapse, but the overflow safety wall built several years ago gave way because it couldn't hold the pressure, and all the water rushed downstream.
The Lenks live on Sanford Lake, about 2 miles north of the dam. "We live on the water, but we don't have any water anymore," he said.
Lenk and his wife first were told to evacuate about midnight on May 18, when there was word of the possibility of a breach of the Edenville Dam. About 4 a.m., the dams were deemed safe and sound, so they returned home.
Lenk then worked all day May 19—Laur Silicone is about 15 miles northwest of Sanford in Beaverton, Mich.—and returned home that evening. He re-tied his pontoon boat because water was coming up, and he needed to give the line more slack.
As soon has he went back in the house and sat down—it was about 6 p.m. at this point—the alarms on their cell phones went off, saying the dam had breached and to evacuate immediately.
"By the time we got out, which was a matter of 15 minutes at most, there were fire trucks going through the neighborhoods, screaming at people to get out of their houses. It was utter chaos for awhile," Lenk said. "It's like something you'd see in a movie. It's just amazing the number of cars that were just streaming out of the towns. But everybody got out before the water got here. That was a good thing."