MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – In the year 2003, on  May 14-16, the Dead River flooded.

The Marquette Regional History Center held a panel for the anniversary on Wednesday, May 31st.

The floods started with a breach in the fuse plug at the Silver Lake Basin on May 14th. The water levels were high because of snow melting that took place the month before, and rain that fell a few days before.

“We had a significant snow melt during the month of April,” said Matt Zika, a Meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “Generally 3 to 6 inches of water still existed in the snow at the midpoint that April and then we had a very wet rainy system during the early part of May, from May 9th to May 12th of 2003. So in that, there was an additional 3 to 6 inches of rain that fell across the dead river basin and thus, it was one of the contributing factors that led to the Dead River flood when the fuse plug gave way near the Silver Lake Dam and sent nearly 9 billion gallons of water downstream towards the City of Marquette.”

4 to 5 feet of water flowed over the tops of several dams in the Dead River.

When the floods reached dangerous levels, an evacuation order took place on May 15th for residents living north of Wright Street in Marquette Township and the City of Marquette.

“So, I was in high school at the time and we lived on the Dead River just on the Tourist Park basin here in town,” said Beth Gruber, a Research Librarian. “And so when the evacuation order became mandatory, we were not allowed to go home. I had gone to school that morning, and then partway through the school day, the announcement came out, ‘if you live north of Wright Street, you can’t go home. You need to call your parents and figure out where you’re going’. And so I ended up staying with friends and my parents stayed with other family friends, but I know some of the students ended up sleeping at one of the elementary schools.”

Over 2,000 residents were evacuated at the time. The dams have been repaired since.

The Marquette Regional History Center is continuing to take oral histories of Marquette residents’ experiences of the Dead River Flood. You can set up a time to tell your story by calling them at (906) 226-3571 or emailing them at You can also find their website here.