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Monday, June 25, 2018

Father's Day storm spares all but one in Houghton County

In the wake of torrential rain on Father's Day, June 17, the scene at the home of Cynthia Drake in Ripley on Monday, June 18, was busy with volunteers helping to clean up mud, rocks and other debris spread from the overflowing of Ripley Falls. (Photo © and courtesy Regina Alleman. Reprinted here with permission.)

By Vanessa Dietz*

Like an alarm clock ringing, the thud of the refrigerator falling over alerted a Ripley family to dangerous flood waters swirling in and around their home during the height of a Father’s Day storm in Houghton County.

Early on the morning of June 17, Cynthia May Drake, her daughter Samantha, and dog, Monte, had a rude awakening. They had been fast asleep on the second floor of their Ripley home when flood waters washed through the first floor knocking the fridge over.

"I am alive because a first responder and my dear neighbors called for help to rescue my Samantha, my wee pup, and I from a home where flood waters were coming up the stairs from the first floor and keeping the doors shut from the inside," Drake said on her Facebook page.

It was a particularly close call for Drake and Monte, who had often slept in a backyard tent. Luckily, Drake had decided to stay inside with Samantha that fateful night. Lost in a landslide of water, rubble, and rocks, the tent had been set up in the newly formed path of the overflowing Ripley Falls.

Flood waters from Ripley Falls coursed through Cynthia May Drake's Ripley home on Sunday, June 17. Accompanied by her friend Robin Hammer Mueller, Drake returned to the scene in the evening, after she, her daughter and dog were rescued in the early morning hours. (Video © and courtesy Robin Hammer Mueller. Reprinted with permission.)

"I am alive because I was saved by my 15-year-old from certain death in my beloved tent," Drake said.

A kind-hearted soul, Drake is a life coach and avid volunteer who is actively involved in the community. She works out of her home -- the Ripley House of Healing -- and regularly invites people there for fellowship and seminars centered on open discussion and enlightenment. She’d often fire up her backyard sauna for visitors to enjoy.

Brockit photographer Adam Johnson shared an aerial video of the path taken by the water from the top of Quincy Hill in Ripley to the homes below Ripley Falls:

This aerial pass from the top of Quincy Hill down through Ripley was taken on June 20, 2018, after the flooding in Houghton County. Click here for larger version. (Video © and courtesy Adam Johnson ǀ brockit)

Drake’s neighbors, Jeff Foss and Bethany Jones, narrowly escaped flood waters with their two children, a neighbor’s child, and their dog.

"We got out when we were smelling gas and saw Cindy’s sauna building going down the street," around 3 a.m., Jones said.

"I was calling 911," she said, estimating the massive wall of water flowing through the area was 150 feet wide and up to 20 feet deep.

"We absolutely love our neighborhood and our neighbors," Jones said.

Jones posted an update on her Facebook page Friday, June 22, saying the initial clean-out and deconstruction/demolition at their home to save the main structure was about 99 percent complete, thanks to the help of many volunteers.

Photographer Adam Johnson of brockit inc. posted on Facebook an album of photos on the Houghton County flood volunteers. Here Adam's daughter, Kora, works with Kiko de Melo e Silva removing water damaged walls and flooring to prevent mold in the home of Jeff Foss and Bethany Jones. (Photo © and courtesy Adam Johnson ǀ brockit. Reprinted with permission.)**

"We got hit pretty hard," Jones explained. "We were all just terrified. It’s pretty awe-inspiring the major damage a thunderstorm can do. I’m just grateful we all escaped with our lives."

A 12-year-old Houghton boy wasn’t so lucky.

Houghton-Portage Township School student Thatcher A. Markham was trapped in debris while sleeping in a basement bedroom.

Just before 5 a.m. that tragic morning, deputies from the Houghton County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to the Canal Road home of his parents, Rodney and Joanne Markham.

"The father was able to dig out the child and perform CPR," according to a press release from the Houghton County Sheriff’s office. "Deputies, along with Stanton Township first responders and the father, were able to transport the child (across the Portage Shipping Canal) to the Hancock City boat launch with a neighbor’s boat due to severe flooding and road washouts. The child was then transported by Mercy EMS to UP Health System Portage where they were able to get a pulse. The child will be airlifted to a children’s hospital for treatment."

Sadly, Thatcher died the following evening, Monday, June 18, at CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. He was buried June 22 in the Oskar Cemetery.

The sheriff’s office said Stanton Township First Responders, Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Office, Hancock City Police Department, Michigan Tech Public Safety, and Mercy EMS helped get Thatcher to the hospital.

According to his obituary, Thatcher was an avid fisherman and goalie in the Copper Country Junior Hockey Association, winning the Squirt B State Tile in 2015. In addition to his grieving parents and hundreds of relatives, he leaves behind siblings: Drake, 14; Sawyer, 8; Grace, 4; and Penn, 10 months.

In the wake of the devastation, Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of disaster for Houghton, Menominee, and Gogebic counties, channeling state support to the hardest hit areas in the Upper Peninsula.

Federal funds are still up in the air, but could be forthcoming.

An official update posted on Copper Country Strong today, June 25, states the following:

"Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (EMHSD) will begin arriving in Houghton County today to begin assessments of the local flood damage. Four person teams will disburse throughout the county to look at a sampling of the sites that were reported to them by the local assessment teams. They will calculate estimates of cost for repair of the sites and then compare their estimates to those submitted by the local assessment teams.

"It is important to note that no federal declaration has yet been made regarding the disaster."

Rep. Jack Bergman, and Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters sent a joint letter to Snyder issued June 20: "If the resources to assist these impacted communities in the response and recovery efforts exceed the capacity of the state and local governments, we are ready to support you in efforts to seek federal assistance. We are committed to doing everything we can at the federal level to support those affected by this disaster."

Senator Stabenow visits Ripley June 25

Today, Monday, June 25, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, along with State Rep. Scott Dianda, met with local residents, in particular with local homeowners in Ripley, to assess the damage done by this past weekend’s storm.

On Monday, June 25, at the Ripley Fire Hall, Senator Debbie Stabenow meets with Ripley resident Cynthia Drake, left, to discuss the damage to her home. Also pictured are, from left, State Rep. Scott Dianda, Houghton County Road Engineer Kevin Harju, and MDOT Superior Region Head Engineer Aaron Johnson. (Photo courtesy Rep. Scott Dianda. Reprinted with permission.)

The governor hasn’t addressed potential federal funding yet.

"The residents of these three counties have experienced significant hardship since last weekend’s heavy rainfall and severe flooding," Snyder said on his website June 21. "We have committed all state resources to assist with the response, and we’re committed to protecting all residents while quickly rebuilding damaged infrastructure. I want to thank all of the responding state agencies, local emergency management services, local officials and volunteer services for the work they have been doing to help the impacted communities recover."

In addition to Thatcher’s death, Houghton County Administrator Eric Forsberg said one person was slightly injured in the storm. However, the infrastructure and property damage has been extensive.

Flood waters in Ripley also did extensive damage to Nancy and Dianne Sprague's house, where the entire dining room fell into the basement. The dining room was often the scene of lovely meals the Spragues generously provided on holidays for international students and friends. Fortunately the 100-year-old piano was one item volunteers helped to rescue, Nancy said. (Photo © and courtesy Adam Johnson ǀ brockit. Reprinted with permission.)

June 23 Report: Houghton County infrastructure damage estimated at $50 million

"The preliminary estimate submitted to the State of Michigan for damage to Houghton County infrastructure including county and local roads along with municipal water, sewage and drain systems etc. stands at approximately 50 million dollars," according to the June 23 update from the Houghton County Michigan Office of Emergency Measures Forsberg sent. (In addition to other information, some of the daily updates are posted on Copper Country Strong.)

"This does not include damage to state assets such as MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) roads and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) trails which are reported directly to the state. This also does not include the cost of damage to individual homes and business. The current count for damaged structures in Houghton County totals 151 having minor damage, 70 having major damage, nine that are inaccessible, and four that have been destroyed. Approximately 1,000 homes and business were visited by the assessment teams."

According to a June 22 recovery update, "The current count for Houghton County roads stands at 103 damaged with 36 being made impassible by the flood. Work on those roads continues with county, municipal and contract crews.

"MDOT continues to work on US 41, M-26 and M-203. They plan on paving the US 41 washouts between Houghton and Chassell today and eliminating the traffic signals upon completion. A request for bids will be let out for a one lane bridge on M-203 this Monday for work to be completed by the end of July. Bids will be let out in August for a permanent bridge which could take until 2019 to complete."

The June 23 update also addressed damage to recreational (ATV) trails.

"The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has completed their inspection of the area’s recreational trails," the update says. "They report 92 minor washouts, 28 medium washouts, 15 large washouts and 15 massive washouts. All Houghton County recreational trails are closed to all traffic and should not be accessed under any circumstances due to these dangerous conditions."***

Some beaches reopened

Western U.P. Health Department announced the reopening of seven bathing beaches June 23.

"The beaches reopened for recreation are Second Sand Beach north of L’Anse, Fort Wilkins State Park in Copper Harbor, Bete Gris Beach, Eagle Harbor, Calumet Waterworks Park, Lake Medora, and Porcupine Mountains State Park west of Silver City," according to the health department website. "Aside from the seven reopened locations, all other western U.P. waters remain closed to recreation including swimming. Surface water samples collected at many other inland lakes and Lake Superior beaches still have high levels of E.coli and/or fecal coliform bacteria in exceedance of Michigan DEQ and U.S. EPA standards for body contact. The presence of E.coli and fecal coliforms means that the water has been contaminated by animal and/or human waste and exposure carries a significant health risk."

The storm delivered up to nearly 7 inches of rain, creating raging streams that caused the damage. Most of the rain came down between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., according to the National Weather Service’s report on the storm.

In a June 20 press release, Houghton County Emergency Management Coordinator Chris Van Arsdale said the downpour tied a record set in 1909.

"Thunderstorms were very efficient," said Forecaster Jon Banitt, from the National Weather Station in Marquette. He said storm conditions developed due to an abundance of moisture in the air, and Houghton was just north of a quasi-stationary frontal boundary -- a slowly fluctuating weather front -- that had set up between warm and cold air masses. "It’s just random that it happened to occur over Houghton. You had maybe several inches in an hour, not in a minute," as some have surmised.

Volunteers, fundraisers respond to neighbors' needs

After the storm passed, displaced residents had to figure out what, if anything, could be done to save their homes. In true Yooper fashion, friends and strangers showed up to help right off the bat.

Volunteers work to remove debris behind Cynthia Drake's home in Ripley the day after the storm and flood from Ripley Falls. (Photo © and courtesy Regina Alleman. Reprinted with permission.)

Drake herself first returned to the scene later in the day on June 17 to salvage a few pillowcases of precious possessions accompanied by her friend, Robin Hammer Mueller.

"What’s going on at Ripley and other areas is tragic," Mueller said on June 20. "It’s a beautiful thing to see the community coming together the way it is."

Drake’s friend Regina Alleman also headed to Ripley when she heard the news.

"I was trying to reach my friend Cynthia Drake and was traveling on my mountain bike as I knew roads were closed," Alleman said. "I tried to ride to town on my mountain bike from Wall Street to get to Cynthia Drake’s house. I couldn’t even get through on my mountain bike."

Flood damage caused this closing of Wall Street on June 17, when Regina Alleman was trying to get to Cynthia Drake's house on her mountain bike to help her friend in need. (Photo © and courtesy Regina Alleman)

During her journey to get to Drake's house in Ripley, Regina Alleman took this photo of a portion of the roadway near the intersection of North and South Superior roads, which gave way to storm runoff caused by torrential rains on Sunday, June 17. This was in Liminga. The intersection is east of E.B. Holman Elementary School. (Photo © and courtesy Regina Alleman)

"I got a ride a few hours later via an Atlantic Mine route that was open," Alleman explained. "Cynthia is such a huge hearted person and sensitive person. It felt so important to reach her on Sunday, I just couldn’t give up."

A registered nurse at Copper Country Mental Health, Alleman lives off grid in a cabin off Wall Street in Atlantic Mine.

"I moved here in January of 2016 and have never felt such love for a community," she said. "I love my work, this land, Lake Superior and the people here."

Ripley resident Cynthia May Drake, left, embraces her friend Regina Alleman the evening of June 17, 2018, after Alleman finally reached Drake's storm-ravaged home. (Photo © and courtesy Robin Hammer Mueller. Reprinted with permission.)

Alleman said Drake told her, "'I have NOT lost my home and I never will. All of you are my home.'"

Reflecting on that, Alleman said, "This is the essence of community. We are each other’s home. It is who we are to each other here in the Copper Country and it’s why I will never leave."

Cynthia Drake, center, is pictured here with her friends Regina Alleman, left, and Sarah Dandelet, who were among many friends and neighbors who came to help. (Photo © Steve Jurmu and courtesy Sarah Dandelet. Reprinted with permission.)

In addition to myriad donations from area organizations and businesses, individuals, and others across the country, a full force of local workers and volunteers have worked tirelessly in the aftermath of the storm, including a steady crew in Ripley.

On Monday, June 18, volunteers work in Ripley to remove debris from the Ripley Falls flood. (Photo © and courtesy Regina Alleman.)

"A group from Michigan Technological University, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, U.P. Engineers and Architects, and the Houghton County Drain Commissioner’s Office met at Mont Ripley (on June 22) to review the areas damaged during the flood to develop short- and long-term plans to address the washout that occurred in the Ripley Falls area (owned by Michigan Tech)," according to the June 23 county update. "In the short term, a culvert that plugged during the heavy rains on Sunday (June 17) will be removed, and equipment will be brought in to ditch and rock a new streambed into the bedrock of Ripley Falls. U.P. Engineers and Architects will also begin work on a long-term plan to restore the area."

Drake, for one, appreciated all the help she’s received from organizations and individuals.

"And I mean all of you, with thoughts, prayers, financial help, phone calls, ideas, hard labor, food, well wishes," she posted on Facebook. "All of this is what we live for. Our purpose in life is to serve one another and create a community of bonds so tight that nothing can divide us because we are bonded in love."

A week after the storm, while much cleanup work remains to be done, the Drake (left) and Foss-Jones houses in Ripley show the results of hard work by volunteers. (Photo © and courtesy Sarah Dandelet. Reprinted with permission.)

Logging tens of thousands of hours, volunteers were joined by about 60 members of Michigan Army National Guard units from Calumet, Kingsford, Gladstone, Sault Ste. Marie, and downstate, who began critical work to clear washed-out roads Wednesday, June 20.

Unit Supply Sgt. Patricia Thomas said the troops are here on state-activated orders for at least 10 days.

"It could get extended depending on what gets done in the next 10 days, and what needs to get done," Thomas explained.

Leaving road repairs to the guard and other contractors, droves of volunteers continue to show up at people’s houses, ready for action.

"Woke up this morning to two women outside telling me they were here to volunteer to work on our basement," said Keith Riley, of Mason, on his Facebook page June 23. "Within minutes, there were another approximately 50 volunteers standing in the road in front of the house. Most of those were from the Detroit area. Well about an hour later they had everything emptied from the basement and were scraping buckets of mud out. It was a little bit overwhelming. People are dropping off supplies and I understand that another six semis are coming in this evening with even more supplies. I’m sure there is a lesson in this for the rest of the nation: no politics, no whining, no finger pointing -- old-fashioned neighborly goodness. Despite the storm, this could be the best weekend ever."

A few of the approximately 50 cleanup volunteers who showed up at the Mason home of Keith Riley on June 23 haul the washer and other items out of his flooded basement. (Photo © and courtesy Keith Riley. Reprinted with permission.)****

Riley appreciated the coordinated effort.

"The organization has been spectacular," Riley said. "Tamarack Fire Department, whose area is Mason, attacked our small community with volunteers with the same passion as if the town was ablaze. They and Hubbell Fire Department need a lot of credit."

Money is being raised by three local organizations: Keweenaw Community Foundation at (906) 482-9673, Portage Health Foundation at (906) 523-5920, and River Valley Bank at (906) 483-2601.

Additional Gofundme donation sites have been established for the Markhams, the Drakes, Jeff Foss and Bethany Jones, Dianne and Nancy (Ripley neighbors of Drake and Jones), the LaCasse family, Houghton County Museum Flood Relief, Houghton County Flood Relief Fund, and Copper Country Flood Relief Fund.

In addition to the expense of remediating homes, one of the biggest hurdles faced by homeowners will be finding the money to restore their homes and replace water damaged items, predicted 2-1-1 Supervisor Terry Irving.

"Nobody has flood insurance," Irving said, in reference to the more than 800 calls the hotline had received from Houghton County residents by June 21. "One of the biggest needs out there is going to be hot water heaters and furnaces."

Resources, information for residents impacted by storm

Using donations they received, the Portage Health Foundation and Keweenaw Community Foundation are planning to assist homeowners to repair or replace furnaces, water heaters, and other items damaged by the flood, according to the June 21 update from the Office of Emergency Measures.

Cleaning up mold will be another challenge for homeowners and cleanup crews, Irving predicts.

"That’s going to be a huge need," Irving added, directing people to the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department website for cleanup tips.

The June 21 update went on to say the following:

"Any county resident whose homes or businesses have been impacted by the flooding and needs help with cleanup can call (906) 233-6621. Hubbell residents requiring assistance can call Township Supervisor Brian Cadwell at 370-5097 or Hubbell Fire Chief Jeremy Dessellier at 231-2709. The Hubbell Fire Hall also has cleaning supplies for residents who need them.

"The Red Cross has established a distribution center at the Calumet Coliseum which is open 24/7. They have clean-up kits, comfort kits, water, etc. They are also assisting with distributing meals to volunteers and with the damage assessment process.

"The City of Houghton is also accepting donations of goods and distributing them throughout the county. Call the city at (906) 482-1700 if you would like to donate any items. Any county residents needing any supplies can stop by Dee Stadium to pick them up. Lt. Nick Roberts of the Houghton Police Department says they are looking for donations of not only water but small, self-contained foods like Lunchables, chips and other non-perishable items that can be placed in bags for individual distribution to volunteers and local residents.

"Two sites in the county have been designated as drop-off points for storm debris.... The sites are located at the former Copper Country Dairy on First Street in Dollar Bay and on Paradise Road just off Superior Road in Dodgeville. Look for signs at both locations. These locations are only for items such as limbs, brush, bricks, blocks, and gravel. Other debris including household waste, furniture, carpeting, etc. must either be disposed of by regular means of collection or by taking them to the two county transfer station locations. Normal fees will apply, however residents are advised to obtain and keep receipts as funds may be available for possible reimbursement at a later date.

"A location for disposal of hazardous materials such as oil, paint cans and contaminated items is still being planned.

"For those who need help or would like to offer their time, they can call the Volunteer Hotline at (906) 233-6621.  They may also visit the Facebook site at Houghton County Flood Volunteer (and visit) (for more information).

"Volunteers are needed.

"Concerns about the structural damage of buildings in the area are being addressed by the office of Houghton County Building Inspector. Questions about inspections or other concerns may be directed to that office at (906) 482-2260 or by Email at"

Additional information was included in the June 23 update:

"Lt. Nick Roberts, of the Houghton Police Department, reports that the following items are in great need: fans, dehumidifiers, extension cords, power strips, power washers, rubber boots, pry bars/crowbars, sump pumps, long sleeve rubber gloves, face masks, eye protection, first aid kits and individually wrapped snacks to feed volunteers. Anyone wishing to donate these items, please contact the City of Houghton at 482-1700. Anyone needing those items for flood recover work can pick them up at the Dee.

"A plan to deal with household hazardous waste continues to be worked on. Waste Management reports that it may be a number of weeks before they can free up assets to send to Houghton County to collect those items. In the interim, please do not dispose of paint, contaminated gasoline, oil etc. in the trash. Dumping out these hazardous materials in a storm drain is also never appropriate. Even a little bit makes a bit difference.

"Torch Lake Township and the City of Houghton will resume their regular garbage pickup on Monday, June 25.

"The Village of Lake Linden has water, food, clean-up kits, and tools available for flood victims. Please stop by the Lake Linden School bus garage.

"A member of Team Rubicon, a volunteer disaster relief organization comprised of military veterans, reported at Friday afternoon’s briefing (on June 22 at the Houghton County Courthouse) that he has worked disasters all over the country but has never seen a volunteer effort like the one he is witnessing in Houghton County."

With continued support at home and beyond, we remain Copper Country strong.


* Guest writer Vanessa Dietz is a freelance journalist, formerly feature editor and reporter for The Daily Mining Gazette.

** See more brockit inc. photos on their Facebook page and in the June 25, 2018, MLive article, "See how 'Sisu' spirit is helping U.P. clean up devastating flood damage."

*** As far as we know, this does not include local cross-country ski and biking trails, though damage to them is being assessed and volunteers are at work. Watch for a future article on trail work needed.

**** Keweenaw Now thanks all those who sent us photos and videos, with permissions, for this article.