Two Years since Sanford Flood and Impacts are Still Felt Today

Anna Merillat has called Sanford home her whole life. Her parents have also lived there most of their lives.

When she was told to evacuate her home that May Monday, in 2020, she never anticipated the events that would unfold. Neither did her parents.

Merillat’s nephew had called her, Tuesday, after the area had already been evacuated and the allowed back home, tell her that the dams were going to break.

“WHEN the dams break?” Merillat recalls, as she drives through downtown, describing what happened.

Merrilat's Parents' HomeShe says she told her nephew to go find his folks, she would find hers and they would leave town.

Merillat says people were still hanging out in the downtown area. Her own parents, when she called, had been sitting on their porch watching the water along their property rise.

Her parent’s house would later be filled with 4 feet of water. Merillat’s home would also be flooded, along with her bridal store. Her construction business would have machinery floating along with other debris from neighboring homes. Her tenant’s house completely washed out.

But they wouldn’t see the worst of it. Village Council President Dolores Porte says, at Porte Park, you could see over a dozen homes and other belongings floating in the flooded Tittabawassee River.

“You can’t feel bad and you can’t complain about that one minute when there’s people who don’t have a home anymore,” says Merillat.
Her parent’s house was restored by Thanksgiving of that year and her home also took a few months to clean. The bridal store is also operating, and she had even been able to save her client’s dresses the day the flood hit.

One thing that frustrates the people of Sanford is the fact it could all have been prevented.

“So it’s one of those series of errors, kinds of things, that kind of put us in this position a hundred years after the dam was built,” says Porte, referring to the final report of the investigations into the Edenville and Sanford dam failures.

Heavy rains and instability are thought to be the causes of the failure.

Unfortunately for homeowners and business owners, like Merillat, they didn’t have flood insurance to cover the cost of repairs.

“Many people were told that it was not available to them because they weren’t in a flood zone,” says Porte. “That’s the biggest travesty, is people who sell insurance really need to understand that it’s available to anyone.”

She says flood insurance is an option to anyone even if it’s considered a separate, optional policy.

Porte also didn’t have flood insurance for her home, right on the lake. Looking back on the flood, two years later, it’s more emotional for her.

“We had so much to do,” she says. She was dealing with damages to her house while also worrying about the needs of others who lost entire homes and their belongings.

The total damages for flooding all the way into the City of Midland is over $200 million. Porte says they’ve received several million from local non-profits, Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, and other organizations, for their re-build efforts. In addition, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has given the Village of Sanford nearly $1 million for the acquisition and demolition of 14 homes damaged from the flood break.

Today, ten new homes are being built, the Downtown is getting new lighting and work will soon begin on a new community ball park. New businesses are also starting to come to town. Porte With New Park Plans

Merillat says one of the greatest things to come from this tragic event is the stronger community. She’s made friends people she didn’t even know prior to the flood.

“Now we enjoy a community and a spirit that we have, like we really didn’t have before,” she says.

They’ll be celebrating that sense of community throughout the weekend with multiple events at Porte Park, including the Sanford High School graduation ceremony, Thursday night.