May 20, 2020
Governor Gretchen Whitmer Michigan Flooding Press Conference Transcript
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Wednesday, May 20 press conference on the historic flooding & dam failures in Mid-Michigan. Read the full transcript here.
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Gretchen Whitmer: (01:12)
All right. Well, thank you. Appreciate everyone. Hey, Congressman. Good to see you. Appreciate everyone making time to be here. This is another packed news day because obviously we’ve got historic flooding here. I just finished an aerial tour of the impacted areas, and what I can tell you is what you already know, you’ve seen from the pictures, it’s devastating. We know that this water is incredibly damaging. It has meant the evacuation of thousands. And I can tell you, even in the hardest hit spots, there are sources of inspiration here in this building as you talk to the incredible volunteers and people of the Midland community. So experts are describing this as a 500 year event. It’s going to have a major impact on this community and on our state for the time to come. That’s why we are going to be very aggressive about getting help from our federal partners.
Gretchen Whitmer: (02:15)
I’ve been speaking with the federal government and they know that we’ll be formally asking FEMA for support, and I’ll have more to share on that soon. So I want to reiterate, and I feel like I’ve said this a lot over the last 10 weeks, but this is an event unlike anything we’ve seen before. We’ve got to continue to all work together, to observe best practices, do our part to help one another, and to wear our masks and continue to try to social distance in this moment. And a lot of you are standing too close to one another. I’m just going to observe that. Ask that you remember, we are still in the midst of COVID-19. We still have COVID-19 in 79 out of 83 counties, so we’ve got to continue to take this seriously, like these young people with their masks on. Good job, you guys.
Gretchen Whitmer: (03:00)
Our first responders and local emergency response officials and members of the Michigan National Guard and the Michigan State Police had been working through the night to help people get to shelter. Had a chance to talk with a few people downstairs who are sheltering here. I want to thank the city manager, the police chief, the local EOC, and of course the Lieutenant from the state police who is here with me, who’s overseeing a lot of our state emergency operations center. I want to thank all of these people for their hard work and the incredible volunteers who have brought food and supplies to help their fellow residents.
Gretchen Whitmer: (03:38)
So to Midland residents looking for shelter, you can find it at Midland High School, Bullock Creek High School, and West Midland Family Center. If you’re looking for information, do not call 911 unless that is your only option and is truly an emergency. The most up to date information can be found at Midland911.org, go online, or you can go to their Facebook page, facebook.com/MidlandCountyemergencymanagement to get the most up to date information, where you can get help and what the latest developments are.
Gretchen Whitmer: (04:14)
We are anticipating the height being around 8:00 PM, so we do know that the water is continuing to rise, albeit at a slower pace, but that’s why we’ve got to continue to take this seriously. If you are in an impacted area and have not done so yet, please get somewhere safe. Follow the direction of our public health officials on the ground. I’m going to continue working with General Paul Rogers of the National Guard, Colonel Joe Gasper with the Michigan State Police, the DNR, and the Department of Energy Great Lakes and the Environment to ensure that we can keep Midland County families safe.
Gretchen Whitmer: (04:54)
I want to thank Jenn Boyer, who is overseeing the local emergency operations center. They’ve got an incredible operation that has come together. So I’ve been in touch with local leaders in Midland, and we’ll stay in close contact with them as this situation develops. I want to continue to remind people if you’re in an impacted area, please evacuate. This is going to be hard, but we are anticipating several feet of water across this area. So while we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s really important that to the best of our ability we observe the best practices to keep ourselves and our families safe.
Gretchen Whitmer: (05:31)
We’re going to get through this. It is a tough time to be sure, but we are going to get through this. We know that tough times don’t last but tough people do. We have seen a community come together and we’re going to continue to do that until we get through this crisis. Stay informed and stay safe. With that I’m happy to open it up for a few questions. Yes.
Speaker 3: (05:53)
Governor, what’s your reaction to the federal government. They [inaudible 00:05:57], they revoked licenses, there wasn’t much oversight. Shouldn’t the public have known this was an issue?
Gretchen Whitmer: (06:02)
Well, I will say this, that regarding the dams, the state of Michigan is reviewing every potential legal recourse that we have, because this incredible damage requires that we hold people responsible, and we are pursuing and going to pursue every line of legal recourse that we can.
Speaker 3: (06:22)
Shouldn’t there have been more warning to the public that these were an issue?
Gretchen Whitmer: (06:25)
Well, I think we’re all trying to understand all of the different proceedings that had taken place up until this point. The initial read out is that this was a known problem for a while, and that’s why it’s important that we do our due diligence then we take our action. Yes, Meredith.
Have there been any injuries at all here?
Gretchen Whitmer: (06:42)
At this juncture, there have been no reports of casualties, which is a pretty amazing thing and it speaks to how seriously the people of this community took this, how many times flooding has been an issue and people know what to do. It also speaks to the local emergency operation center and the local leadership. We are working arm in arm to make sure that we continue to keep people safe. If that changes, we’ll share that information as it becomes available. But at this juncture, we’re very pleased to see a 10,000 person evacuation that has, I think gone as well as something like this can go. And so as a tribute to the local leadership, and we want to acknowledge that, and to all the people of this great community doing their part. Yes.
Speaker 5: (07:26)
Governor, the President has threatened to pull funding from the State of Michigan and Nevada over the absentee ballot question. Give us a sense of your thinking about his hostility to the idea of mail in voting, of absentee ballot, and the idea that he would take money, given to the state of the Covid crisis, away.
Gretchen Whitmer: (07:47)
Well, I’ll just say this; for 10 weeks we have been in the midst of battling COVID-19. The people of this great state have done their part, and we have seen our numbers flatten. We’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s taken a lot of sacrifice and it has not been easy. On top of this 100 year event, we have a 500 year event in a flood that has absolutely devastated a lot of families, a lot of parts of this community.
Gretchen Whitmer: (08:16)
To see Twitter this morning and to see rhetoric like that is disheartening, because I think it first shows you that there maybe was a lack of understanding of what the Secretary of State was doing. She said, “We’re going to mail applications,” not mail ballots, mail applications. And I would appreciate any federal partnership that wants to stay focused on solving problems and not getting into politics. We got to take politics out of this crisis moment. And remember, we’re all Americans. We are all fighting for our lives here and for our economy, and we all got to get this right. And remember that one another is not the enemy, the enemy is a virus, and in this case, the enemy is also a flood and we’ve all got to pitch in and get this right on behalf of the people that we’re fortunate enough to represent.
Governor, what’s the status of-
Gretchen Whitmer: (09:09)
Do I hear an amen, Congressman? All right. Congressman Moolenaar, a great advocate for this community. All right. Other questions? Kathy. Sorry, and then I’ll come to you.
Thank you. Governor, what’s the status of the Sanford dam? Is it just spilling over at this point, or is it going to-
Gretchen Whitmer: (09:28)
I’m going to let the Lieutenant answer that. Are you prepared to talk about the Sanford dam?
I am not.
Gretchen Whitmer: (09:33)
Okay. Okay. Someone from the local? Can we get an update on the Sanford dam? Okay. City manager. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (09:44)
Thank you, Governor. The Sanford dam at this point in time is overflowing. The majority of it, probably 60% to 80% of that is actually been overtopped. It’s not entirely clear what the structure is below the water surface. The Michigan State Police have been helping us. They have a helicopter that is out that is constantly filming the river as well as all of the dams and the structures along it, it continues to show a significant amount of overflow over that dam coming down the river towards the city here.
Speaker 1: (10:09)
We don’t know, quite frankly, whether the entire structure has gone or only portions of it are gone beneath that water flow at this point in time. But it is, and will continue to release a significant amount of water from the Lake behind it.
Speaker 8: (10:21)
Could it get much worse if it completely … if the structure does-
Speaker 1: (10:24)
I don’t want to take over your conference here. Could it get worse? Yes. If the entire structure were to go and the water were to come in a very significant, serious, immediate impact, there would be a much higher surge that would come down the river. That could raise the level of much more quickly than what we’re seeing right at the moment. So, that is a danger. Yes. I’m going to get out and give it back to you.
Speaker 9: (10:43)
[crosstalk 00:10:43] about that, the danger that Dow Chemical may pose? [inaudible 00:10:47]
Gretchen Whitmer: (10:47)
I’ve been in regular communication with the leadership at Dow. I know that they’ve got extensive flood plans that they’ve started executing in terms of shutting down the plant early yesterday, and I know that at this juncture they believe that all of these precautions have paid off, but of course we’re still watching because this water is going to continue to rise until about 8:00 PM is what the experts on the ground are predicting. So should that change, we’ll make sure to share information as quickly as it’s available, but at this juncture the plan is working and they’ve been able to save any real damage from happening. Yes.
Speaker 10: (11:26)
Are you calling on the President to come see this disaster firsthand as he works to make decisions on assistance?
Gretchen Whitmer: (11:32)
Well, I’ve been in regular communication with the federal government and I will continue to do so. My hope is that the ordinary red tape and things that need to be done in a situation like this, perhaps we can cut through it because of COVID-19 has got so many FEMA needs, so perhaps we can move this through little quicker. That’s going to be my pitch to FEMA when I talked to them this afternoon, after surveying the damage and being able to give a firsthand account of what’s happening, it’s my hope that they’ll be able to move quickly and stop some of the red tape. I know that the President is scheduled to come to Michigan tomorrow, it is my intention that we will be able to give them a full briefing before they come into the state so that they know precisely what we’re confronting.
Speaker 1: (12:18)
We’ll take a couple more questions.
Speaker 11: (12:20)
Governor, I’m curious. What was your personal reaction when you found out that this was happening as well as COVID-19. Did you think was a cruel joke at first?
Gretchen Whitmer: (12:28)
I think like everyone, right? It was hard to believe that we’re in the midst of a 100 year crisis, a global pandemic, and that we’re also dealing with a flooding event that looks to be the worst in 500 years. But you know what? Here’s what I know. When the chips are down, the people of Michigan are able to rise up. We are tough, we’re smart, and we care about each other. So long as that guides our actions, we’re going to get through this and we’re going to get through it together. Yes.
Speaker 12: (12:59)
[crosstalk 00:12:59] the crisis, any reaction to Operation Haircut in Lansing, and are you getting close to maybe announcing more forms of reopening in parts of the state?
Gretchen Whitmer: (13:08)
So let me start with this; I understand that people are frustrated. All right? I get it. I’m frustrated too. A lot of us have made sacrifices. Every one of us has made a sacrifice to some extent, some have made incredible sacrifices. Many are mourning the loss of loved ones. Many are mourning the loss of a job. Many are mourning the loss of a business that might not open or survive this. And yet we know that the best thing we can do is continue to listen to the epidemiologists and the public health experts and make decisions based on science. We’ve made great progress in this state. The fact that we’ve got some people that are frustrated and are demonstrating, that’s what happens in the United States of America. But in the midst of a global pandemic, what I ask is that people do so in a way that does not expose themselves or others to a prolonged public health crisis.
Gretchen Whitmer: (14:01)
So if people protest, I ask that they wear masks, I ask that they observe the six feet apart. And if they don’t, we will have to take some action here. I am hopeful that people will continue to stay home unless it’s necessary to be out so that we can continue to turn that dial and reengage sectors of our economy. But the more people moving about and flouting the law, the harder it’s going to be to turn the dial and take the next step. That’s why I’m calling on everyone. Don’t let your guard down. We’ve done an incredible amount of sacrifice. It’s made a difference, but we have to continue to every one of us keep doing our part.
Speaker 13: (14:34)
We’re looking at all these volunteers throughout [inaudible 00:14:37]. What are you calling on people to do to help?
Gretchen Whitmer: (14:40)
So I can tell you at this site they’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people of this community. They’ve actually been telling people, “We don’t need as much as you’re bringing by.” I would defer to the local leadership here in terms of what are needed at particular sites, but I can tell you that the people that have sheltered in place here to get through the flooding crisis have been well taken care of and they’re in good spirits.
Speaker 1: (15:07)
All right. Thank you, Governor.
Gretchen Whitmer: (15:07)
Thank you everybody. Stay safe. Thank you. [crosstalk 00:15:16]