Report: Going off script, decisive action saved lives during 2020 dam disaster – Great Lakes Now

“And had you done that, because of that failure happening so fast, it’s entirely possible that you wouldn’t have been able to get people out of harm’s way in time,” France said during a virtual event Thursday as he explained the team’s report.

Dolores Porte, president of the Sanford village council, was one of those who heeded the evacuation advice and headed to a relative’s home nearby. She credits Boyer for a tough — but correct — call at a very difficult time.

Porte said a study showed the early evacuations saved 14 to 25 lives, a number that makes sense because of her village’s proximity to the Sanford Dam.

“The action that (Boyer and her team) took saved lives for sure,” said Porte, whose town was devastated by the flood. The former village hall, she said, was “erased.” But though many buildings were damaged or destroyed, everyone survived.

“I think it would be a hard decision,” Porte said. “You’re making a judgment call. You’re dislocating so many people during a pandemic. It’s pretty courageous.”

In conversations with Bridge Michigan this week, Boyer downplayed her role, despite already getting a “national honor of merit” award from a national dam safety organization.

“It was not an easy decision to make but we made it together,” she said.

Boyer said her decision was based on multiple factors:

  • If she waited until the morning, the volunteer firefighters in Edenville and Jerome townships would be at work, unable to assist.
  • If she waited until the Edenville Dam failed, the communities would be split, with east-west roadways under water or destroyed.
  • In 2017, surprising overnight rains triggered floods, with children awaking their parents to complain of wet floors and beds. Boyer said she didn’t want to see that again. “The river came up while we were all asleep,” Boyer recalled. “We had no warning.”

There was one more factor: During prior storms, the local managers of the dams were able to tell Boyer how the dams were holding up and predict what would happen next.

In the hours before she called the evacuation, she asked the person in charge of the dams, at the time operated by Boyce Hyrdo, about their conditions.

“I got silence,” Boyer said. “That caused me to be more concerned.”

The evacuation could not wait.

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