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County officials concerned with safety in homeless camp as Clark Fork floods

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Posted at 12:39 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 18:03:44-04

MISSOULA — While the Clark Fork River is expected to remain above flood stage for at least a week, the immediate threat of overland flooding is subsiding for now as heavy rain departs the basin.

But the threat hasn’t passed and efforts to address safety in the homeless camp under the Reserve Street bridge are moving forward. High water will remain in the forecast and could be exacerbated by additional snowmelt.

“There was a substantial effort in the last several days to move garbage up to an area that wasn’t anticipated to be impacted by floodwater and can be removed once floodwaters subside,” said Adriane Beck, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management. “There was also an aggressive public education campaign to urge folks to move to higher ground.”

Beck said her office is in touch with the Hope Rescue Mission and the Homeless Outreach Team at the Poverello Center. Both have an eye on the camp and the safety of its occupants as high water moves through the area.

County commissioners also met Thursday with the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, which expressed concern.

“We had a meeting and discussed whether any additional measures would need to be made for the sake of the safety of folks who are camped out down there, not to mention emergency responders who might need to potentially rescue folks should they get trapped there,” Strohmaier said.

Beck said officials are monitoring the situation and exploring alternatives. Action could be taken later today.

“We’re doing some drone flights today, trying to get better eyes on what’s currently going on down there from a flood perspective and where access may be compromised,” Beck said.

High waters have already severed access in other parts of the valley, including Kehrwald Drive. A rural road on the border of Missoula and Lake counties has reportedly washed out.

Beck said search and rescue remains on standby and members of the Army Corps of Engineers have been out inspecting levees, including those damaged in the 2018 flood.

As of Thursday morning, she said, the levees are holding.

“They’ll continue to stay in town and monitor conditions on the ground until we reach our peak,” said Beck. “Right now, we’re anticipating to reach our peak late tonight or early tomorrow morning. We still have substantial snowmelt flooding and we’ll see the Clark Fork stay in flood stage through at least next week.”