MISSOULA - Missoula leaders say they're coping with the worst flooding the city has seen in decades. But Montana Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney says the state stands ready to send whatever aid is needed.
Cooney joined State Senator Diane Sands for a briefing and tour of Missoula's growing flood problem, with the Clark Fork starting to eclipse previous flood levels, and reaching the highest marks in more than 30 years.
Missoula County Sheriff TJ McDermott and others managing the evacuations and flood response told Cooney the community is coping so far, but will likely need more state assistance, especially with the bulk of this winter's snowmelt still to come downstream.
Across town, Cooney met volunteers led by the Team Rubicon veterans who are turning out thousands of sandbags to save homes and neighborhoods.
"The Governor has issued a number of proclamations which opens up the door for certain resources to come in and help with the community activities," Cooney said. "And then there's ultimately a presidential declaration which would allow FEMA to come in and be a bit more active. But again, the bottom line is this is a tough situation for the people here. Missoula's lucky. You have great volunteer turnout. Your community leaders have done a fabulous job of working with the people in the effected areas, trying to be as accommodating as possible. But at the same time, doing the job that they have to do in order to protect the life and safety of people."
On the dike off Stone Street, the neighborhoods are awash in a combination of river and groundwater. In some cases, a few people are still evacuating, doing whatever they can to save now-soggy possessions and limit the damage as much as possible. Right now, that's being a battle without victory against the river's onslaught.
You can hear the pumps running in this neighborhood non-stop. I asked the Lieutenant Governor what he would tell people if he could go door-to-door about the risks, and the potential for more water to come.
"This is a tough thing. And I'd have to say 'look, I understand.' This is a very disrupting thing," Cooney said. "You think your lives have been turned upside down and they have been. But we're going to get through this. We're Montanans. We're resilient. This is a great community that's going to help people along. They need to reach out when they need something. Ask and I'm sure someone will be there to help them out. But this is going to be a long row to hoe and we've got to be prepared."
If there's good news here Thursday, it's that critical systems like roads, dikes and utilities are undamaged so far. That's where the state can step in as needed. But it's the individuals facing the unknown and that's where the community is already making a difference.