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Town Digs Out After Devastating Flood

September 17, 1986

VASSAR, Mich. (AP) _ As National Guardsmen kept watch on vacant storefronts nearby, Bob Atkins and his brother Fred scrubbed thick green muck off nearly every item in their hardware store.

″It’s going to be a long process,″ Bob said, surveying the few items he salvaged from 8-foot floodwaters by placing them in seven canoes. The floodwaters were spawned by the worst storm the store had faced in its 104 years, but Fred said, ″We’re going back in business, same spot.″

State officials, meanwhile, expressed optimism that flooding was subsiding from three days of storms which caused an estimated $297 million in damages to Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

″There’s still floodwaters out there, but it’s not the situation we had a few days ago,″ said Duane Trombly, planning manager for the emergency management division of the state police.

All rivers in the state were receding, said Gary Charson, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Ann Arbor. He predicted a chance of showers tonight through Saturday in the flood-ravaged region.

Vassar, population 2,793, suffered an estimated $50 million damage. It wiped out the life savings of some residents, said Mayor Jerry Kuhn.

″The initial shock was traumatic to the people,″ Kuhn said. ″I cried myself.″

Residents have grown familiar with the Cass River’s habit of leaving its banks a little each spring, so many at first were lulled into thinking this was just another ordinary flood, he said.

Instead, the river crested 14 feet above flood stage, covered the main bridge through town and filled the downtown business area.

″By the time they realized it was worse than usual, it was too late,″ Kuhn said. ″It’s what the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers said would happen once in 500 years.″

Across the street from Atkin’s hardware, clothing store manager George Faber pointed to a set of fishing bobbers on shelves that held hundreds of shoes last week.

The bobbers had floated across the street from the hardware into the clothing store, he said. The shoes lay in piles on the floor.

Police Chief John Howarth said his officers’ biggest problems were trying to tell homeowners they can’t return to their flood-damaged homes and keeping sightseers from jamming the city’s roads.

″Right now, there’s a lot of hot tempers,″ Howarth said. ″People have been out of their houses four or five days and they can’t get back in.″

Howarth said the town only had one looting complaint after the flood.

The storms caused five deaths and 89 injuries, and three people were presumed drowned. According to reports from all but one of the 22 counties in the affected region, damage to public property was estimated at about $67 million, private property sustained $138 million in damage, and agricultural damage was put at about $93 million, Trombly said.

Gov. James Blanchard said he will ask President Reagan by Thursday to declare the region a federal disaster area.

About 810 residents remained evacuated statewide Tuesday, authorities said.

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