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News -> This Week's News Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Heavy rain leads to heavy flooding

  By Ken DeLaat

Near the end of a long winter, local people were worried about the rivers.

“So far, Mother Nature’s been kind to us,”  said Mark Walton of the National Weather Service less than a month ago. He was speaking to a community meeting at Newaygo High School, talking about the Muskegon River.

Walton said that the only concern would be back-to-back rainfall or slow and heavy rain

It happened.

A downpour of heavy rain combined with strong winds and occasional accompanying hail hit the area. The saturated watershed could not contain the water and for the third time in four years area the river went where it wanted to, inflicting damage throughout its path.

Newaygo County Emergency Services worked to keep residents informed and safe throughout the disastrous event.

“The impact of this is of such a magnitude,” said Emergency Services Director Abby Watkins. “These people are getting hit for the third time in just four years. The damages are significant.”

“Weather patterns are changing,” she added. “We’re getting heavy rainfalls in very short periods of time and need to look to see if we can do something to mitigate the damage done.”

Her office in White Cloud held the command center where organizations from throughout the region collaborated to coordinate resources. The meeting room buzzed with activity, phones constantly ringing with calls for help.

Watkins’ husband Mark Watkins serves in the same position in Osceola County, where the Muskegon River is also doing its share of damage there.

“We really haven’t seen much of each other this week,” Abby Watkins said with a tired smile.

Watkins praised the reaction and cooperation of the landowners and residents during the difficult time. The relationships built over the past few years in reaction to the frequent flooding are a large part of this collaborative effort.

“We know them and they know we’re here for them,” she said. “We’ll provide around the clock resources to help them out.”

The Red Cross set up shop at Resonate Church, providing shelter for anyone who might be in need. Most residents found family or friends to stay with and others decided to just stay on and wait out the river.

Propane tanks were uprooted, vehicles were under water and boats once setting on blocks in the yard suddenly broke free and traveled wherever the river wanted to take them. A pontoon boat was lodged under the lower bridge in Newaygo

Upper level decks became docks, the Riverfront Park in Newaygo disappeared underwater and people gathered near flooded areas to take photos, share stories and recall previous high water times, including the dam threatening Flood of 1986.

With the waters beginning to recede, the bigger challenge is yet to come.

“We want to make sure we have an organized process in place to guide homeowners through the process of getting back into their homes as quickly as possible, once it is safe to do so,” Watkins said.

“Because many of the homes were substantially impacted by the flood waters, there are safety concerns that need to be addressed to protect homeowners from electrocution, structural failure, gas leaks, and other hazards caused by the flood water.”



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