Montana Cities Face Flooding

Originally published on May 31, 2011 6:21 pm
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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Montana Public Radio's Emily Ritter has been talking with people throughout the state.

EMILY RITTER: Roundup, Montana has been hit hard. Much of the community is under six feet of water. It's a town of about 2,000 people in the center of the state. Billings is the closest city. But for the last week, people living in Roundup haven't been able to get to Billings. Many roads in and out of town are closed.

EVERETT REAVES: We do feel isolated, actually.

RITTER: Everett Reaves owns the Keg Bar in Roundup.

REAVES: You know, you don't think about, well, going to Billings, which is the biggest city around here. You know, on a day to day, you don't really think about it until you can't go. And then it's - then you start to feel isolated.

RITTER: Montana National Guardsmen are in Roundup and the nearby Crow Reservation, providing unarmed security and public safety. The Musselshell River runs through Roundup, and bar owner Reaves says it's been more than two feet above flood stage for the last week.

REAVES: We've been in like, what, seven- or eight-year drought. And the river has been - and sometimes, you could actually step across it or jump across it. That's how low the river was. So, yeah, to see it come up like this has caught a lot of people off guard.

RHONDA MARTENS: I'm going to try and save what I can.

RITTER: More than 300 miles west of Roundup, Rhonda Martens is moving her most valuable possessions out of her Missoula home. The rising Clark Fork River could be at her doorstep within days.

MARTENS: Load up what I can, and I have a trailer coming, so just got to try and pick and choose what's important and what's not.

RITTER: Martens says even though her property is next to a river, she can't quite wrap her mind around the possibility of a flooded home.

MARTENS: You don't expect it. You just can't prepare for something like this. You just don't foresee this much water happening here.

RITTER: Folks living along rivers and in floodplains expect high water each spring during runoff, but the tough part about this spring is record levels of mountain snowpack really hasn't started melting yet. Add up to a foot of rain in some parts of the state to the already saturated ground, and National Weather Service hydrologist Gina Loss says you'll run out of places to put the water.

GINA LOSS: And not only are these two events occurring, but we have a lot of snow and a lot of rain. So as those collide, those combine, it's just more water than our water system is used to dealing with. And so we've got water that - it just can't stay in the banks. There's just far too much for that to happen.

RITTER: State officials warn the May floods could just be the beginning of June flooding. Monique Lay has been with the Montana Disaster and Emergency Services office for 20 years.

MONIQUE LAY: We've had flooding in prior years, and I was here for the '97 floods, which wasn't historic here. But this is hitting every corner in the state and everything in between.

RITTER: For NPR News, I'm Emilie Ritter in Helena, Montana.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.