Whitmer declares state of emergency as Portland assesses flood damage

Posted at 4:49 PM, Feb 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-13 16:49:38-05

PORTLAND, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency Wednesday evening for Ionia County as it recovers from damage caused by severe weather.

It has been a week since ice jams triggered flooding in parts of Portland and forced people to leave their homes. Those properties are still under water and many residents are still displaced.

But Wednesday, officials started to get a closer look at the damage.

The city manager also told FOX 17 there was some frustration with how the state is handling the issue.

Red Cross volunteers made the rounds in flooded neighborhoods, delivered supplies, checked on residents and assessed property damage to homes and businesses.

Resident Dan Smith joked, “This is the first it’s ever come up and surrounded my house like it has in 44 years. Hopefully, it’ll be another 44 before it does it again.”

He said 30 inches of water seeped into his basement on Canal Street. His sump pumps have been running since Friday, and he’s trying to keep water away from the furnace.

“It don’t look promising (nor) the hot water heater,” Smith said.

It’s damage like that the emergency management team is looking to account for at homes and businesses.

Sgt. William Hoskins, Ionia County’s emergency management coordinator said, “Challenges right now are that some of the stuff we want to do damage assessment on is still in the water. So obviously that’s going to be some areas that we’re gonna document the best we can at this point, but we’re gonna have to revisit those once the water goes recedes.”

The county declared a local state of emergency last week, but City Manager Tutt Gorman said a declaration from the governor’s office hasn’t come. That’s despite putting in a request last week.

At 5:52 p.m. Wednesday, Whitmer’s office announced the state of emergency declaration.

Gorman said, “We’re just in a holding pattern right now.”

He said the city tried to piggyback off Grand Rapids’ successful request for a state of emergency declaration, but it was denied for Portland. Then after submitting a separate application, Gorman said the city was asked to provide more information to substantiate the damages.

Gorman described it as a catch-22 considering the area is still under water.

He said, “So, [it’s] a little frustrated with the process. Obviously we went through this with the tornado in 2015. It was a much smoother process. You usually have people who are operating in good faith but maybe have a different interpretation of the act.”

The city manager said he’s sure the declaration will be granted, and Smith told FOX 17 me he’s sure citizens will bounce back with everyone sticking together.

“It’s certainly trying times, and everyone gets through ’em. [There’s] a lot of support, a lot of help and that’s very appreciated,” Smith said.

Meantime, the Portland Community Fund Association is having a fundraiser for flood relief. March 1 is burger night at American Legion Post 129.