A state of emergency

PROPERTY DAMAGE: This photo distributed by Mecosta County Emergency Management shows high water levels seen on Wednesday on 183rd Avenue. Hovercrafts were able to measure 30 inches of water in some areas on Thursday. (Courtesy photos)

At least $3 million in damage caused by rising level of Muskegon River

BIG RAPIDS — A state of emergency has been declared in Mecosta County, but it is unlikely that residents will receive any kind of federal assistance in response to this week’s floods.

Eric O’Neil, chairperson of the Mecosta County Board of Commissioners, signed a declaration for a local state of emergency on Thursday. The local state of emergency can last for up to seven days.

An estimated $3 million in personal property damage has been caused by Muskegon River floods. That number is expected to rise as waters recede and reveal the full extent of damage caused by the water and subsequent freezing, but it likely will be too low to prompt any kind of federal response.

“Right now, with our damage estimate sitting at $3 million, we are not eligible for any assistance. FEMA requires damages to be at least $11 million,” said County Administrator Paul Bullock. “As of right now, we have no money coming in to help with damages.”

The area most affected by flood waters spans about a mile and a half between Garfield Road and 11 Mile Road in Rogers Heights. Flood waters are deepest on 185th Avenue, said Sheriff Todd Purcell.

As of Thursday afternoon, water levels had dropped about 10 inches from Wednesday; however, crews in hovercrafts were still able to measure 30 inches of water in some areas, said equalization director Shila Kiander.

Kiander, who also serves as the county’s damage assessment official, said her offices considered homes destroyed, or a complete loss, if they have a foot or more of standing water in the main floor for more than 24 hours.

“That (assessment) has nothing to do with building codes or the health department or condemning,” she said. “The job of the damage assessor is to go out, take the value of an assessed home and make a report to turn over to the state and hope they grant a state of emergency. If they grant a state of emergency, (homeowners) don’t get money, but they might get loans or something else the government has to offer them.”

Of the 55 homes she surveyed on Thursday, about half are considered destroyed. Some homes Kiander saw had water halfway up their front doors. One home, valued near $180,000, had two feet of water standing in its basement and its support beams were about to buckle, she said.

Of the homeowners she interviewed, none had flood insurance.

Sometimes mortgage lenders require their clients to carry flood insurance, but it’s a policy that must be purchased in addition to home insurance, said Tyler Schuberg, at Schuberg Insurance Agency.

“Flood is excluded on home insurance policies. It has to be bought separately,” he said. “Are there flood plains and flood areas around here? Yes, there are. It’s upon the insurer to seek that coverage, but we do recommend it if we see they’re in those territories. … The most coverage you can have on a home is $250,000, and on contents the coverage limit is $150,000. There are limits to contents in basements.”

In addition to property damage on the surface, there also could be extensive damage to the septic and well systems in the affected areas, Bullock said.

“One thing the health department is investigating is the wells that have been covered,” he said. “People will need to call the health department to see about making that water safe for consumption. … That’s down the road, but people will start to go back in and think, ‘Oh, my well still works.’ Your well is probably going to be contaminated.”

Septic fields also are likely to be damaged by the floods, but the health department doesn’t believe it will pose a long-term health risk to the area, Bullock said.

Consumers Energy worked to restore power in flood-affected areas on Thursday. Power was cut off to protect evacuating residents and first responders. The area without power was larger than the area that was initially affected as a precaution against additional flooding.

Damages to roadways and other infrastructure can’t be assessed until waters recede, Bullock said, which might not happen until the next thaw.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for western central Mecosta County through 2:30 a.m. Saturday. The Grand Rapids office said an ice jam and melting snow caused the Muskegon River to flood between Rogers Heights and Big Rapids.

Freezing temperatures on Wednesday locked the ice jam in place and froze the water surrounding the flooded homes.

“The runoff got frozen in place when it got so cold (Wednesday) night. The weather service is telling us that is going to keep the river from cresting any higher than it is,” Bullock said. “The ice is the problem. If you could find the exact choke point and were able to clear it, it would be about 30 seconds before it filled back in because you’ve got all this ice.”

Emergency crews in hovercrafts returned on Thursday to flooded areas in Rogers Heights to see if anyone else needed to be evacuated.

Fifty-five homes total were affected by flooding, but many were unoccupied seasonal homes.

Approximately 30 houses were evacuated by emergency crews in the span of about three hours on Wednesday, said Sheriff Todd Purcell. Two families elected to stay in their homes.

Although some have taken shelter with family and friends, 15 people are lodged at Quality Inn and Suites in Big Rapids by the Mecosta-Osceola Chapter of the American Red Cross.

At this time, the Red Cross plans to keep those families in hotel rooms and not establish a shelter, which can be an uncomfortable environment for people already under stress, said disaster action team volunteer Nick Campau.

Anyone who wishes to donate to the local chapter of the Red Cross should consider a monetary donation instead of a donation of goods, Campau said. It costs about $50 per night to lodge each family, and about $150 per week for clothing and other essentials.

“It’s hard for us to manage donated goods, but if you donate money to the local chapter, all those funds stay in the county and are used locally,” he said.

Purcell urged those who were evacuated not to try to return to their homes at this time as conditions remain unsafe.

Pioneer staff writer Lauren Gentile contributed to this report.

 

 

WHO TO CALL FOR ASSISTANCE

Residents affected by Wednesday’s floods may need to call the following agencies for assistance:
Mecosta County Health Department
(231) 592-0178

Mecosta-Osceola chapter of the American Red Cross
(231) 796-6562

Consumers Energy
1-800-477-5050

Use caution when dealing with flood water, health dept. says

 BIG RAPIDS — District Health Department No. 10 advises residents to take precautions for personal safety to prevent waterborne infections that may result from contact with contaminated flood waters. 

Flooding and power outages can threaten water quality due to well water pump failures and overflowing septic systems.

The Health Department recommends the following safety precautions:

• Avoid any body contact with floodwaters.

• Wear protective gear such as gloves and waders if in contact with floodwaters.

• If you have been in contact with floodwaters, be sure you are up to date on vaccinations for Tetanus, Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B.

• Stay out of flooded basements until water recedes; wait before attempting clean-up.

• If there is standing water over your septic tank, avoid flushing your toilets.

• Avoid any unnecessary use of water to reduce the amount of sewage produced.

• If you suspect floodwater has entered your well, do not use the water until it has been chlorinated by a professional well drilling or plumbing service.

• If water must be used before it has been professionally treated, you should boil it for 3-5 minutes before personal consumption.

When the times comes to clean up, follow these tips:

• A commercial service is recommended for clean-up of flooded homes and basements.

• Before entering flooded areas, turn off electricity and gas, preferably at the meters.

• Check outside walls for possible cave-ins or other hazards.

• Open doors and windows for fresh air into the basement.

• Consider any floodwater, and any items touched by floodwater, to be contaminated.

• Wear rubber gloves when handling materials that have been in floodwater.

• After water and debris is removed, to help prevent mold, scrub floors and walls with a mild bleach solution (one tablespoon bleach in one quart of clean water) and allow to dry completely.

• Wash flood-exposed items in mild bleach solution. Discard large porous items such as upholstered furniture, mattresses, and carpeting if they cannot be properly cleaned.

• Throw away any food or drink suspected of being in contact with floodwater.

• Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and clean water after taking part in any cleanup activities.

Additional information may be found at www.epa.gov/safewater.

 

avatar

Posted by Whitney Gronski-Buffa

Leave a Reply