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The small Michigan village that washed away is fighting back

By Neal Rubin, The Detroit News on

Published in News & Features

SANFORD, Mich. — The first three days after the flood, after picnic tables and recycling bins went floating past his house, Aaron Lindgren was so broken he couldn't talk on the phone.

"Text me," he told everyone, because that way a guy who's spent his life getting things done didn't have to try to explain the desolation of not knowing how or where to start.

Now he's good. Thursday marked six months since the Edenville Dam breached 10 miles north of Sanford and unleashed millions of gallons of chaos downstream, through Wixom and Sanford lakes and the Tittabawassee River. Earlier this month, his sister had just repainted the living room, and Lindgren and a buddy were re-siding his house.

He's still sleeping in a trailer on the lawn, but that's optional. He gets a little misty talking about the shock of it all, but that's natural.

"The guy two houses down, he had bluegills in his attic," said Lindgren, 50. "The widow next door, the insurance company gave her $10,000 and she just walked away."

The bad news remains easy to spot in the Village of Sanford, home to a shade fewer than 1,000 resilient souls northwest of Midland. There are concrete slabs in the spots where 20 or 30 houses used to stand. Where Sanford Hardware reigned as the center of commerce downtown, there's a rectangle of mud, and a change in the boundaries of the flood plain might keep the store from coming back.

 

But there's plenty of good news, too, or at least better news. To start with, it doesn't look like anyone will face winter in a tent.

Village president Dolores Porte poked around, and then posed the question in the online gathering spots for people whose quiet communities became federal disaster areas: Everybody got a roof?

Some of them might be aluminum, but yes, she was told. An older fellow living in a trailer said his garage is almost done, and it's heated. The dad and three kids living in a 5th-wheel camper mounted on a plywood platform have moved to a motel in Midland; he'd prefer to be closer to the site where a mobile home is supposed to replace the little house that drifted away, but now breakfast is free and the shower works.

"The mud was like ice skating," said Porte as she led an informal tour of the area near Sanford Dam and onward into the village center. "I wore boots for three months."

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