HELENA – Augusta’s Main Street was still full of fast-running water on Memorial Day as the town faced serious flooding, less than a year after another major flood caused damage and delayed the annual Augusta rodeo.
Authorities closed U.S. Highway 287 through Augusta and Montana Highway 21 to the east meaning that the best ways to access the town were from Choteau and Fairfield to the north.
Deputy Jerome Steiner, who covers Augusta for the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said floodwaters had damaged a bridge on Highway 21, about a mile east of the bridge over Elk Creek that washed out in last year’s flooding.
Authorities cautioned residents in about a half-dozen nearby homes to evacuate, because of concerns that they could become trapped.
Sheriff Leo Dutton asked the public to respect the road closures. He said you should never drive through flooded areas because you can’t see how deep they are or what is below the surface.
“Please just don’t go around it and decide that you’re going to make it,” Dutton said. “You will get swept off the road here. We are going to have to start issuing citations.”
Leaders are also warning that floodwaters may contain contaminants.
In town, residents were doing their best to keep dry. All along Main Street, businesses had set up sandbags to help keep the water out.
Candi Shalz and her husband Jay own the Western Bar. They began putting up sandbags Sunday afternoon – and Shalz said that made a big difference.
“We’ve got a little water in the basement, but nothing compared to last year,” she said. “Before it came down Main Street, we were able to contain it and make sure things were much better in the bar.”
Several business owners said it seemed the water was spreading farther than it had in 2018, but that the town had been better prepared. Dutton agreed.
“They got the sandbags early this time, and that was a blessing,” he said.
Volunteers filled hundreds of sandbags at the Augusta fire station on Sunday and Steiner estimated they went through 16 truckloads of sand.
Shalz thanked everyone in the community who helped out – like Alexa Wilkinson, an incoming sixth-grader at Augusta Public Schools.
“We had little ones like this out here, and we had a lot of high school kids out there yesterday sandbagging – even seniors that have already graduated, and they came out and helped,” said Shalz.
One ongoing challenge has been from vehicles driving down Main Street. When they pass, they can create wakes that push water over the top of the sandbags. Leaders asked drivers to avoid the flooded streets if they can.
Some in Augusta were making the best of the situation on Monday. The Western Bar started holding duck races – letting two dozen plastic ducks float down Main Street. They donated the proceeds to the Augusta Area Chamber of Commerce, which paid for much of the sand and sandbags being used in the town.
“We’re just trying to give back to the community, and so we thought, ‘What better than to have a little fun and have some duck races and make some money to go back to the chamber?’” said Shalz.
On Monday, the Elkhorn Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) announced that the Salvation Army would deliver six pallets of bottled water to be distributed in Augusta.
The water, donated by Harrington Pepsi, Vans Thriftway and Helena Walmart, was taken to the Augusta fire station.
Shalz said she is grateful for all the support Augusta has received, from inside and outside the community.
“We’re very lucky to live where we live,” she said.
Dutton said authorities will reassess the flooding situation on Tuesday and determine what else needs to be done. He asked the public to be patient.
“The water’s started to recess just a little bit, but we’ll keep a monitor on it and see what we need to do,” he said.
-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News