I think Eric planned to publish this next week. HJ
SANFORD, MI — Less than a year ago, Tonia Uphold and her fiancé Howard Brackett bought and moved into their first home. It was a single-story house with a brown, brick facade near Sanford Lake, just northwest of Midland.
“We were going to fix it up,” said the 41-year-old Midland County woman. “We were just excited to have a house by the lake. Like, that’s everyone’s dream.”
But in May, five months after the first-time homeowners moved in, dam failures and catastrophic flooding changed everything.
“The lake is gone. That used to be our view every day,” she said.
In addition to losing Sanford lake, Uphold, Brackett, and Uphold’s 19-year-old daughter, Emily Lilly, lost their home near Water Road, a pet cat, and almost everything they owned. They stayed with friends at first, then at a hotel with help from the American Red Cross, and now, the family of three lives in a donated camper behind what remains of their home, the home they’re working tirelessly to rebuild.
“Everything was just gone. Everything was destroyed,” Uphold said, her voice breaking. “I cannot talk about this without crying, so I apologize.”
Uphold and her family were among the approximately 11,000 Midland County residents who were forced to evacuate, 10,000 of whom were located in the city of Midland. When they returned, there was about 4 to 4.5 feet of floodwater throughout their single-story home. Everything was muddy and wet, dressers were tipped over, water poured out of drawers, appliances were ruined, precious family heirlooms lost.
“We were able to save a little bit, but not much,” Uphold said.
Some mementos from her daughter’s high school graduation and letters from her dad survived on a high shelf and, somehow, so did Uphold’s snow globe collection.
“We bought this house on a land contract in December, so we’d only lived here five months,” she said. “We had just gotten everything that we needed for the home, I mean, we had just settled in and then the floodwaters came and said, ‘Ha ha now you’ve got to start over.’ You have to laugh about it because, if not, it’s going to drive me crazy.”
Four months later, the floodwaters have long ago receded and their neighborhood looks almost as it did before, but for the vast green space where the lake once was. Uphold and her fiancé are trudging through the arduous process of rebuilding their home and their lives. The foundation and cement walls are still sound. Uphold said they had homeowners insurance when they bought the home but received notice early this year that they no longer had coverage so they’re relying on their own sweat equity, grants and Brackett’s experience working for a contractor rebuilding homes to make it livable again. Brackett and Uphold, a nanny, are both out of work and this project is now their full-time job. They hope to be able to move back in by December.
“There is no normalcy, nothing’s normal,” Uphold said. “We’re just working ourselves into the ground. This is seriously a priority, this is our home, we have to get it back.”
The Edenville and Sanford dam failures and flooding in May displaced thousands of people and destroyed homes and infrastructure. It also inspired the Sanford Strong hashtag, a sentiment that can still be found on signs throughout town, and an outpouring of community support. A local Christian rock band, One True King, even wrote a song called “Dam Strong” to help with fundraising efforts. Proceeds from the song’s $5 downloads support rebuilding efforts, primarily in the Sanford area.
“There is no question that people are still feeling the impacts of the flood and the dam failures,” said Midland County Administrator/Controller Bridgette M. Gransden. “And I think they’re going to be feeling it for a while, whether it’s individual property owners or businesses or even local governments.”
Gransden said the village of Sanford sustained severe property damage and, throughout the county, about 2,500 homes, businesses and nonprofits were affected by the disaster.
“The beautiful thing that I’m seeing is the number of people that continue to pull together and help,” Gransden said. “The Sanford Strong movement is certainly very powerful and folks are continuing to volunteer. We have a lot of nonprofits that have been, and churches, that are still donating time and materials and food and we have a long-term disaster recovery group here in the community that is continuing to work on housing and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) applications for folks who still need help with that.”
As of Sept. 10, FEMA had approved $21.9 million in recovery funds for residents of the five counties included in the disaster declaration and 3,685 FEMA registrations, the deadline for which has been extended from Sept. 8 to Sept. 30, at the state’s request, said Nate Custer, media relations specialist for the agency. In addition, the Small Business Administration has approved 410 low-interest, disaster recovery loans to individuals and businesses, he said.
Here’s the data by county, as of Sept. 10:
- Midland County: 1,825 FEMA registrations approved, $15,699,748.98 FEMA dollars approved
- Gladwin County: 923 FEMA registrations approved, $3,915,712.64 FEMA dollars approved
- Saginaw County: 593 FEMA registrations approved, $1,564,959.07 FEMA dollars approved
- Arenac County: 235 FEMA registrations approved, $532,101.82 FEMA dollars approved
- Iosco County: 89 FEMA registrations approved, $208,861.80 FEMA dollars approved
There’s also philanthropic support. Midland Area Community Foundation has raised a little more than $1.7 million for Midland County’s flood relief fund, said President and CEO Sharon Mortensen.
“To date, these funds have helped with cleanup and debris management as well as hiring disaster case managers, a construction manager and a case manager to help with immediate housing needs,” Mortensen said. “We have been touched by the outpouring of response to help those impacted by the dam failure and resulting flooding.”
In the months since the flood, Uphold and her family have benefited from that generosity and goodwill.
“The love and support of this community is just by far the greatest thing,” she said.
Rebuilding their home isn’t the only challenge Uphold and Brackett now face. There’s also the emotional work of processing the trauma they’ve endured. Uphold and Brackett still have a hard time sleeping at night and the sound of rainfall triggers their anxiety. They also lost the lake they love, the lake that served as a backdrop for many of Brackett’s childhood and family memories.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” Brackett said of the strange new landscape and what was lost. “I can’t believe it’s gone.”
While the Sanford area may have been hit hardest, it wasn’t the only one.
Shalana Spellman, 41, was living in a townhouse in Saginaw Township with five of her children when the disaster happened. A licensed practical nurse, Spellman works nights for a home health care service.
It was a Monday in May and Spellman was asleep between shifts when a police officer knocked on her door and told her there was a flash flood warning, she and her family needed to evacuate within the hour. They packed their medications and enough clothing for a day or two, thinking they would be able to return home soon. Spellman had no idea she and her children would be homeless and living with her boyfriend and family members for the next four months. Hers was one of about 10 families living in townhouses near the intersection of Center Road and Michigan Avenue that were displaced by the flood.
“We’re moving back home today, as we speak, so we’re still affected and it’s been long, really long,” Spellman said on Sept. 3. “They had to gut out the entire first floor and it took four months, almost. We’ve been displaced since May 11.”
Floodwaters filled her basement and the first floor of her two-story townhouse. They lost many of their belongings, including some that can’t be replaced.
“We lost a lot of sentimental pieces, things that belonged to my father and my grandparents, who passed on, that we can’t get back,” she said.
Although Spellman is in the process of moving back into her home, the kitchen is still incomplete, she doesn’t have counter tops yet, and her family is eating takeout for three meals a day. It’s inconvenient and costly, but with the new school year starting virtually, Spellman needed to get her children back home and into their own space as soon as possible.
When asked how she’s handling moving, working, parenting and remote learning amid a pandemic, Spellman replied, “I’m extremely overwhelmed and fatigued, but it’s a humbling experience. Things can always be replaced. No one got hurt, no one lost their life.”
Likewise, Uphold in Sanford said she counts her family among the lucky ones because everyone is safe, they have a place to live, and they have a home to rebuild.
And although the topography has changed, the lake is gone, she still finds beauty there.
“I’ll say one thing that the flood didn’t take away from us and it’s the sunsets out here. We still have beautiful sunsets, and I love that,” she said.
Read more on MLive:
FEMA assistance deadline moved to end of September for mid-Michigan flood victims
How a spring rainstorm became a 500-year flood event in mid-Michigan
Michigan Senate sends $2.9B unemployment, $6M flood relief bill to Whitmer’s desk
Michigan plans to issue emergency order for repairs resulting from Edenville dam failure
Timeline: The Edenville Dam saga, before, during and after the break
Federal official tours flood-damaged town in Midland County, talks long-term recovery help
‘Collaboration in action:’ Community initiatives, disaster relief continue to help Midland area rebuild
Crdit: Source link