As if it were not tough enough to have been closed for months due to COVID-19, USBC Board member and proprietor of Northern Lanes in Sanford, Mich., Bo Goergen, now has yet another calamity to face: An historic flood threatening his center. One dam north of the area has collapsed and a nearer one was breached after as many as eight inches of rain fell in 36 hours amid what is being described as a "500-year flooding event."
"Right now we're just praying that nobody releases the murder hornets because I don't know if we could handle three states of emergency," jokes Goergen, who has operated Northern Lanes since 1987.
Goergen knows as well as anyone in town that the apocalyptic scenes surrounding him, particularly in devastated downtown Midland, Mich., are no joke.
"They have the National Guard with boats and helicopters and all sorts of equipment. It looks like a war zone around here," he says.
The scenes those National Guard officials can see by helicopter include cars partially submerged in water, pieces of destroyed homes and businesses floating through streets, water high enough to reach the tops of stop signs, roads washed away, and residents fleeing their homes with their belongings stuffed into trash bags and their pets cradled under their arms. WILX reported that the Curtis Road Bridge in Midland had collapsed.
"I drove by Midland Country Club; it all flooded so much you can't even see the flag sticks," Goergen says. "The water is probably three feet above the flag sticks."
While he says he "got the computers, oil machines and essentials up and out of harm's way," Goergen had no time to try to shore up Northern Lanes with sandbags or other precautionary measures.
"The problem was how quickly the water rushed down," he says. "Everybody had to get the hell out. I just feel for all the customers who lost everything. My customers lost their businesses, their homes. Everything. You have all these lakes that have formed from these dams associated with all these rivers coming through mid-Michigan, and I can tell you that from Sunday to Monday night we had five inches of rain here in Midland, and north of us where all those lakes and rivers are, they got eight inches. That rain had nowhere to go, and this is what's happening.
Goergen said he fled to a more elevated area, where he is safe as he waits out the disaster.
"Though the actual address of the center is in Sanford; we're about 500 feet from the Midland city limits. The main town is gone. It's eight or nine feet of water."
When Goergen drove by his center this morning, it was dry, but indications were that he could not count himself in the clear.
"I don't expect it to stay dry; they're expecting another four to five feet with the dam collapsing completely. Right now, it is just breached and holding on. Boats and pontoons and debris are up against it right now as the water is rushing, so they don't think it's going to hold."
If it does not hold, Goergen says, "I believe we will have a couple feet of water come into our center. That would cover the lane beds up to the machines."
The dam closest to Northern Lanes is the Sanford dam, which was breached amid the excessive rainfall Goergen describes. The Tittabawassee River rose rapidly in response to the collapse of the Edenville dam, which is north of Midland and was followed by the Sanford breach. The Smallwood Dam also failed.
President Trump tweeted this morning that he is "Closely monitoring the flooding in central Michigan - Stay SAFE and listen to local officials," while Governor Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County and had warned in a Tuesday-night briefing that, "In the next 12-15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water."
While Goergen says he does not have flood insurance for Northern Lanes, he explains that, "Who in their right mind expects to have eight inches of water come down in a 36-hour period in mid-Michigan? This is a one-off."
Asked how this latest catastrophe, unfolding against the backdrop of a 100-year pandemic, will further complicate his already challenging reopening prospects at Northern Lanes, Goergen answered, "'Unknown' is the best answer I have for you."