One year removed: Service remembers flood, community response

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Jon Stone speaks about the community’s response to the June 17, 2018, flood Sunday at Evangel Baptist Church in Houghton.

HOUGHTON — At a glance, the scene at Evangel Baptist Church in Houghton Sunday did not look much different than that of any service anywhere.

The significance was evident in other photos of the church, from a little less than year ago. Hoes and rakes piled against the wall, ready for eager work crews. And desks of volunteers in spaces normally filled by pews, ready to direct those looking to help.

That spirit of volunteerism was a powerful response to combat the damage from devastation unheard of it in the Copper Country: the 1,000-year flood that hit Houghton County on the morning of June 17, 2018.

Jon Stone, a first responder, leader of the community response and a pastor in Baraga, talked to the congregation about the flood and the outpouring of community support that followed.

“It just really felt like it was an appropriate thing for us to pause and remember and have the space for people to share stories and walk though the emotions of it,” said Levi Matteson, pastor at Evangel Baptist. “And also just recognize how incredible it is to live in this community where we took care of each other in this moment of need.”

A member of the Stanton Township Fire Department, Stone had been worried by early warnings coming in from the National Weather Service of an intensifying storm. At 4:51 a.m., a call for help came from Negaunee Regional Dispatch. It was a house on Houghton Canal Road, where 12-year-old Thatcher Markham was trapped in the basement of his house.

But the powerful torrents of water stopped all but two firefighters from making it to the house. Stone was stopped a quarter-mile away.

“I got stuck at Coles Creek Road as I watched the bridge wash out before me,” he said.

They joined Markham’s father and two neighbors as they struggled to remove Markham and get him to safety. They evacuated him from the debris and took a pontoon boat across the canal to get to the hospital. The congregation paused for a moment of silence to remember Markham, who died from injuries sustained in the flood.

As the sun came out, people came out and surveyed the damage across the county. Stone showed images of the now-familiar scenes: lawns in Ripley covered in rubble, homes in Lake Linden surrounded by water, roads cracked and warped beyond recognition.

But the widespread damage was met with an equal conviction to put things right. Stanton Township’s fire department was out rescuing people and evacuating people below the Red Ridge Dam, which they thought might collapse from debris. And around the area, both first responders and other communities reached out. At the root was compassion — as Stone defines it, “love in action.”

“It’s a love that rolls up the sleeves, that gets into the mud and muck and mire and sweats and bleeds,” he said.

A volunteer center was set up at the church. Stone remembered Micah Stipech and the team from Crossfit, who specifically requested the hardest, dirtiest jobs.

Help also came in from outside. Companies such as Milwaukee Tools organized donations of supplies at the urging of employees who were Michigan Tech alumni. Other organizations volunteered, including Team Rubicon, a group of veterans that travels to disaster areas.

They helped Stone understand how unusual the Copper Country’s response to the flood way. Slated to stay for three weeks, Team Rubicon left after one. Jeff Wagg, their incident commander, told Stone why.

Rubicon would take information about homes that needed work, then document it and head back out to do the work.

“He and his team were trying to figure out what was going on,” Stone said. “They loved it. They were enthralled by it. They were invigorated by it. But it was also a little disconcerting for them, because they’d never seen anything like it.”

The community was a good one beforehand, but the flood has clarified what is important, he said.

People should resolve to continue be compassionate to each other, Stone said. He urged the crowd to find someone this week towards whom they can express that kind of compassion.

“Someone in this community is living through a flood-like event this week,” he said. “It may be catastrophic, that’s affecting the entire community, but there’s someone who’s in need who would be blessed by the reminder that someone loves them and cares for them in the midst of their travails.”