Silver Lake Dam bursts,

thousands are evacuated,

area without phone or power

(Vinman’s pilgrimage may be cancelled)

The Silver Lake Dam regulates hydroflow to the Dead River Storage Basin which regulates hydroflow to the power plant on Dead River.

The Silver Lake Dam burst, leaving the Hoist Dam to hold back the flow from the now dry Silver Lake.

By Vince Kern

On The Pilgrimage

Room 438 — Holiday Inn: Marquette, MI — I am not at my destination of our cottage on Lake Superior on Squaw Beach in Big Bay. Instead I am holed up in a hotel room with my sister. My parents are in a room next door. And this self-imposed assignment has turned into a front-line report of a big news story, not creative writing.

Tonight I can only revert to my journalistic instincts as I have been operating on that unique adrenalin since we spotted the barricades closing off County Road 550 that runs north of Marquette, Michigan to our cottage some 30 miles to the north. Unbeknownst to the four travellers who left Vinman’s home in the rain at 9:30 a.m., the dam that holds back Silver Lake some 45 miles to the west (see graphic above) had burst late last night and severe flooding had caused the evacuation of over 1,700 people this afternoon in the flow’s path. Antother dam, Hoist Dam, is holding back the water from that break at this point. If it goes, all hell will break loose in Marquette.

At about 5:30 p.m., after driving all day, we arrove at the intersection to 550. It was to be the last road to our destination, the end of a long day. I was tired but had the energy for the rest of the drive. The rain we started in turned to sunshine and warm weather, then rain and then sun and warm again. We were seemingly home free — until I saw the barricades.

My mom thought it was just construction. “Oh, I know another way around.” But I insisted on talking to the guy at the barricade and it was then we were told of the disaster, although we couldn’t really comprehend it.

The next stop was my aunt’s house in Marquette. She was expecting several of my cousins coming from downstate for a Marquette to Big Bay relay race. And workers cleaning a sewer problem in front of her house this morning also happened to hit a water main leaving her without water in addition to having to deal with the chaos.

At Delorace’s house, we watched the 6 pm local news. It told us the power and phone lines were out in Northern Marquette and Big Bay. The police chief said he had never seen anything like this. Our planning suddenly included the very real possibility that we might have to turn around and go home as quickly as we came if the prognosis for power in our cottage was not good.

We made hotel reservations and moved on. But I didn’t eat soon enough to replentish all of the energy I had burned on the last half of the drive and dealing with the intensity of disaster, so I bonked. A little drained, a little dizzy and a lot grouchy (not at those with me, just, well you know). And then on to the hotel.

Meantime, I will take the following thoughts with me to bed tonight:

1) This is a disaster, but no one has been hurt yet. That’s great.

2) The worst this will affect me is that I may have to drive ten hours home tomorrow. Others have been impacted in far greater ways and the county has been declared an official state of emergency by the governor.

3) This is but a small glimpse of the force of nature we flirt with everyday. One who has endured the tornadoes of Oklahoma would find this small business by comparison.

Now, it is almost six hours later. The 11 pm news indicates things have not changed. We won’t know what we’re going to do until tomorrow, but we also realize this is not about our little trip I call The Pilgrimage anymore. One of the best fishing lakes in the state has been dried up…..gone, flowed right out of it’s home…..property has been lost or damaged and people have been displaced.

The Federal agencies now here and local police have things well in hand. Otherwise I would not be here writing, we would be out helping do whatever. But all we can do now is wait, watch and hope the Hoist Dam holds.

So far so good.

Good Night.

The Mining Journal – Content

Thousands of Marquette residents evacuated due to rising waters – 05/15/03

A group of people and vehicles are seen on the north side of a flooded bridge over the Dead River on County Road 573 in Champion Township Wednesday

following a major release from the Silver Lake Basin dam. The bridge remained underwater today.(Journal photo by Aaron Peterson)

This sauna was quickly inundated Wednesday near the Dead River after an earthen dike failed at the Silver Lake Dam and basin.

The flood waters threatened several camps and other structures in that area of rural Champion Township. (Journal photo by Bud Sargent)

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