Hi-Line residents prepare as flooding worsens

Posted at 10:05 AM, Apr 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-19 12:05:02-04

CHESTER – There’s no doubt it was a rough winter.

“It seems like one extreme to another. We had such hot weather last summer, and a cold, cold winter,” West Liberty Fire Chief Jason Wanken said.

As of Wednesday, Governor Steve Bullock has declared a state of emergency due to rising waters.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of water out there right now,” Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said.

The state of emergency applies to seven Montana Counties: Pondera, Hill, Blaine, Valley, Toole, Liberty and Petroleum counties, along with the town of Chester and Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

With the record-breaking snowfall, it’s time for spring. But with the warmer temperatures, the snow is melting and causing extreme flooding.

“We started out with a drought, then we went to fire season, then extreme snow falls. And now, we have extreme melting and water,” Peterson said.

In Chester, volunteers from the community are doing everything they can.

“Quite a bit of sandbagging yesterday and then today they started early because it’s coming,” Wanken said.

Many up north are frustrated.

“The snow has kept them bottled up for a long time. There are roads that we have not even been on to plow, and now were dealing with the flood waters to get around. Our guys are tired,” Peterson said.

But many more keeping positive.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Everyone is pulling together real well,” Wanken said.

Governor Steve Bullock issued an executive order on Wednesday declaring a state of emergency due to flooding in seven counties, on the Fort Belknap Indian reservation, and in the town of Chester.

The executive order has been issued for the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, the town of Chester, and Pondera, Hill, Blaine, Valley, Toole, Liberty, and Petroleum Counties.

Bullock said in a press release: “As Montanans are faced with flooding, we are doing everything necessary at the state level to protect health and safety, and to preserve lives, property, and resources. We continue to keep in close communication with local and tribal officials as we monitor conditions around the state.”

Rapid snowmelt and flooding have impacted the Milk River Basin and Marias River Basin with the potential to cause widespread damage to farmland, private residences, and critical infrastructure.

Near-record snowpack in nearly every river basin across Montana is soon expected to begin to melt off as temperatures begin to rise.

The executive order authorizes the availability and utilization of necessary state government services, equipment and supplies. It also allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to utilize sandbags and other resources available for critical infrastructure protection.

Bullock has also established a Multi-Agency Coordinating Group to keep informed of the flooding situation statewide.

The State Emergency Coordination Center continues to work closely with local and tribal jurisdictions.

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