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Red Lodge residents fighting to recover a year after floods

red lodge flooding drone.jpg
Posted at 9:07 AM, Jun 14, 2023

RED LODGE — Once raging, the waters of Rock Creek eventually calmed, and a spirited Red Lodge chose to start again.

"This is where the porch is. We are thinking it just made its way in,” said Heidi Hoffman during a recent tour of her Red Lodge home. “The water was all the way up to the basement door.”

She, like many, was overcome with grief when Rock Creek spilled its banks last summer and damaged dozens of homes in town.

“I cried over a lot of those things,” Hoffman said, adding she also felt lucky. “I think I was just so thankful that nothing happened to the house."

Others weren’t as fortunate. Hoffman remembers they got a knock on the door that said her family needed to evacuate. Little did they know, a catastrophe was brewing upstream.

"But of course, we didn’t know what was going on further, that wasn’t communicated. It was just, there’s a potential for the water to be coming down Broadway. You need to evacuate,” she said. "We just said, let’s run up to Home Depot and get some pumps. We are going to need them. Other people are going to need them. And by the time we got back, we couldn’t even get to the house.”

Floodwaters washed over and struck communities all over southern Montana and northern Wyoming, but Red Lodge was at the front and center of the disaster.

"You just don’t know the course Mother Nature is going to take,” Red Lodge Mayor Kristen Cogswell said.

The numbers were staggering — 300 homes evacuated, 150 flooded. Nearly everyone in town suffered some sort of financial consequence from the flood, Cogwell said. But, she added, the community found its strength.

"One of the things that will always stick with me is how people came together, and I think that would happen under any circumstance. And I was really proud to see that it did," she said.

For Hoffman, strength first meant pumping massive amounts of water from the bowels of her basement. Then sandbagging, which the community did a lot of this year.

Hoffman's losses were in her basement, "It was just too much for any house to handle."

When the river changed its course, it changed lives and left behind lessons.

"We will rest a little easier but it's always going to be, this time last year, on the forefront of our minds, not knowing and being a little more prepared," Hoffman said.

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