Rebuilding a community, one step at a time

After a long few months of isolation, each knowing stories of businesses, neighbors or close friends who were struggling with an uncertain future, it all seems a little surreal still.

Images that we’ve all seen grace television or news screens in years past with stories of tragedies in other communities. Alarms and notifications that didn’t seem like they would ever stop, followed by the whirling of helicopters and planes constantly flying overhead and sirens that ran into the night – all became familiar.

Familiar because they were now focused us, or our neighbors, family and friends. The pit seemed to sit in our communal stomach throughout the coming days.

The water residing. The damage assessed. The businesses and residences safe to return to and calculate what was left.

Amidst the collective and water-logged items of a community, many of which experienced a similar fate just three years ago, is a stronger sense of optimism.

Now it’s time to rebuild.

While we’re all hurting, one of the many blessings over the last week is the fact that no one was hurt in the event, thanks in part to the immediate response of community leaders and emergency response.

“I think one of the positive things about this situation is the fact that the City of Midland tested this exact series of events back in the fall of 2019 under a practice drill training exercise, knowing it could be a potential worst-case scenario,” says Selina Tisdale, Community Affairs Director for the City of Midland. “What a blessing that training has been now, because it equipped us with so much experience and preparedness with all that happened.”

Flooding in Midland County, May 2020. (PC: Ben Tierney)

In the practice drill scenario, employees with the City of Midland went through actual inundation maps of the community, which helped them prepare for which areas to first reach out to and when to evacuate people from their homes.

“We are a very prepared community to begin with, but it was immensely helpful to have in the process of evacuating and a big reason why we practice these scenarios,” says Tisdale. “We also have been blessed with the help from Midland County, community management, emergency responders, leadership of surrounding communities and a number of other resources in helping to carry this torch.”

Each county and community remain in constant contact as everyone assesses the damage and plans for a path forward.

An aerial view of homes as they remove damaged items or lay them out to dry. (PC: Ben Tierney)

“Thankfully, the work requirements for COVID-19 had already introduced us to doing things a little bit differently, so with this crisis situation, we were all able to quickly hop online and all get the same message, at the same time, in order to coordinate the safest response to this event as possible,” Tisdale says.

Due in large part to the efforts of all involved, throughout all the communities impacted by the Midland County dam crisis, there was no loss of life or even a direct impactful injury, both during the event and throughout cleanup thus far.

“It just speaks to the quality of the people working together on this,” says Tisdale. “So many people have worked night and day to make sure the message is out and to help others.” Supplies organized in Dow's hangar at MBS International Airport. (PC: Dow/Facebook)

From restaurants that gave out food to feed those impacted and volunteers, to those who walked around and asked ‘how can I help?’, to the make-shift donation tents set up at Northern Lanes, to the shelters stations that formed inside local schools, to the takeover of Dow’s corporate aviation hanger at MBS International Airport, to Facebook groups dedicated to finding the source and owner of recovered flood items downstream, to Midland’s local nonprofits who immediately stepped in with help and funds and many other efforts – the help from the community was immediate and has persisted in what has been a constant pulse of aid since.

It’s been mentioned numerous times over the last week – from outsider’s who have traveled to cover the damage or those who have moved here from previous disaster or weather-impacted communities – no one has ever seen a community respond to the collective need for help quite this quickly, and amidst dealing with another local and global crisis.

Notably, the volunteer efforts have been astounding, with help clearing out homes, neighborhoods, businesses and more. Just one example is the assistance at Riverside Place Senior Living in Downtown Midland, which was impacted quite heavily. 

“Thankfully we have been very fortunate to have volunteer assistance to clean out impacted sites like Riverside Place Senior Living over the past week,” says Grant Murschel, Director of Planning and Community Development for the City of Midland. “The volunteers have been tremendously hardworking and caring individuals. We are in a much better position as a result of their efforts and we are working diligently to bring back Riverside Place among many other facilities back to where it can be safely occupied again.”

If you or someone you know needs help, you can access local options in the following areas: 

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.