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Houghton, Menominee counties declared disaster areas

Houghton and Menominee counties were declared state disaster areas Monday as they struggle to cope with the damage caused by massive flash flooding through the region that started early Sunday.

The move will allow National Guard to be sent to those counties to assist with road repairs, Gov. Rick Snyder said in the declaration.

“This declaration will ensure additional state resources are available so that damages can be repaired as quickly as possible,” Snyder said.

By declaring a “state of disaster,” the state makes available all resources in cooperation with local response and recovery efforts as outlined in the Michigan Emergency Management Plan. Snyder’s declaration authorizes the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division to coordinate state efforts.

Officials in both counties continue to assess the havoc wreaked when as much as 7 inches of rain fell within a matter of hours in parts of the Upper Peninsula, turning a number of streets in the Houghton area into torrents, and forcing numerous road closures due to high water or pavement so torn up it looked like the aftermath of an earthquake.

At least 30 roads have been washed out in Menominee County, said Richard Sexton, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

With waters still on the rise, three roads remained closed in Menominee County: Belgiumtown Road west of U.S. 41, Hendrickson Road east of U.S. 41 and Chartre Road off County Road 354, Sexton said. Portions of those roads still are under water, he explained, with no indication what might lie beneath.

“The road could be gone,” Sexton said. “We don’t want people driving through what they can’t see.”

But so far no injuries had been reported from the Menominee County flooding and no shelters have been needed, Sexton said. It remains to be seen if wells or septic systems in some areas will need checking in the aftermath of the flooding.

Road crews spent much of Monday laying down crushed limestone to help provide a number of Menominee County residents with access out of their homes, Sexton said. But other areas remain untreatable for now.

“Really, we’ve got to wait until some of this water goes down,” he said.

That might be a few days, he said. When the Way Dam on the Michigamme Reservoir reaches a certain fill level, water must be released, Sexton said. Though a considerable distance upstream, that release will affect Menominee County — and, in turn, Dickinson County, Sexton said.

In Houghton County, officials work to address the widespread damage in the region, part of flooding seen in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota as well that’s being blamed for at least one death.

In Houghton County’s Stanton Township, a 12-year-old child was seriously injured after being trapped inside a Houghton Canal Road home Sunday morning when flooding caused the basement of the house to collapse, according to the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office.

The father was able to dig his son out of the collapsed debris and performed CPR. Deputies, along with Stanton Township first responders and the father, were able to transport the boy to the Hancock City boat launch with a neighbor’s boat. The boy was transported by Mercy EMS to Portage Hospital, where they were able to get a pulse. He then was airlifted to the children’s hospital in Ann Arbor.

Fifty-two Houghton County roads were listed as washed out as of noon Monday, according to a map provided by the Houghton County Road Commission. More still were being reported, officials said.

“We’re still finding out new things every hour, so we’re working on that,” Houghton County Road Engineer Kevin Harju said.

The first priority is making sure everyone can get in and out of their home, Harju said. Once that’s been accomplished, they’ll focus on getting at least temporary passage on the most-traveled county roads.

No estimate has been done on road repair costs, but Harju estimated it would be in the “millions and millions” of dollars. They may not get to some of the roads until next summer, he said.

“Every time we turn down a corner, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh,'” he said.

Though damage assessment is still in the preliminary stages, Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson estimated multimillion-dollar damages just in Hancock alone. That ballpark figure includes road reconstruction and storm sewer repairs.

“We had a lot of storm sewers that blew out because they were surcharged with stormwater,” he said.

Those sewers now contain sediment, stones and gravel that will need to be cleaned out as well.

Several lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman and state Rep. Scott Dianda, who is from nearby Calumet, toured the area Monday to get a look at the scope of the disaster.

In Dickinson County, the only blacktop road to receive substantial damage was the District 5 Road in Norway Township, said James Harris, the county road commission’s superintendent of operations.

“The road was undermined and washed away on both sides, creating several areas in which the blacktop was undermined and lost,” Harris said. Crews placed large-sized mine rock on the remaining road edges in order to stabilize it until more permanent repairs can begin, he said.

The graveled Pine Creek Road was heavily washed out near the end of the road, but it only sees camp traffic and is relatively easily repaired, Harris added.

A specific website for this disaster has been created and can be accessed here for public information updates.

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