The Great Flood of 1986: What we have learned?

Thirty years ago widespread flooding hit West Michigan, damaging homes and wiping out crops.

WEST MICHIGAN - Thirty years ago widespread flooding hit parts of West Michigan -- homes were damaged and crops were wiped out.

Dams that failed, 14 in total, and several other dams were at risk of failing. It led to thousands of people being evacuated from their homes in several counties.

It started Sept. 10, 1986 and last over a period of three days. A storm dumped up to 17 inches of rain over a 24-hour period of time.

"In 1986, it was a massive flooding event," said Abby Watkins, the director of Newaygo County Emergency Services. "So, we always look at those catastrophic events and learn from them."

The storm caused flooding across a 60-mile area. In Kent County,  the Childsdale Dam along the Rogue River in Rockford failed, causing flooding. Oceana County was likely the hardest hit. The Hart Dam, near Pentwater, failed as well.

In Newaygo County, the Hardy Dam, was also at risk. In the end, it did not fail, but two smaller dams did.

"The small dams that did fail, that is still very possible, that could happen again," Watkins said.

Watkins says a failure of the two larger, hydroelectric dams, is unlikely. She says the county has also developed a better response and evacuation plan.

"We have better warning systems to help educate and inform public about what's going on," Watkins said. "We have a better monitoring system along the river."

Newaygo Fire Chief Jason Wolford says residents can help. 

"When we tell them it's time to go, they should listen because those plans have been tested and tested," he said. "We have their best well-being in mind."

The Great Flood of 1986 serves as a lesson for years to come. Six people lost their lives and with better planning and technological advances, a similar flood might not be as catastrophic. 

(© 2016 WZZM)


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