Flooding becomes widespread in eastern Montana

Flooding in Montana caused the cancellation of several high school graduations and fishermen were trapped by washed out roads on Saturday, while swelling rivers led to voluntary evacuations in a...

Flooding in Montana caused the cancellation of several high school graduations and fishermen were trapped by washed out roads on Saturday, while swelling rivers led to voluntary evacuations in a community near Billings, meteorologists with the National Weather Service said.

Much of the eastern two-thirds of the state is dealing with flood warnings or actual flooding as a slow-moving storm has dumped rain across the region for several days, in some areas as much as six inches since Thursday. The National Weather Service in Billings predicted rainfall would lighten overnight in southeastern Montana.

The stormy weather began to hit the region as the state braces for more possible flooding after harsh winter and late spring snow storms deepened mountain snowpack to levels nearly double their average levels.

"The ironic thing is we really haven't begun to bring the snow out above 8,000 feet of elevation," said Billings-based meteorologist Joes Lester. "This event is from rain."

Flooding has damaged several roads, bridges and culverts and farm fields are being inundated in southeastern Montana, said James Zabrocki, the director of Custer County's Disaster and Emergency Services in southeastern Montana.

He said the Tongue River could hit a record crest and that the Powder River at Locate is nearing its crest.

On the Crow Reservation in the south-central part of the state, officials canceled graduations at Lodge Grass High School and Plenty Coups High School in Pryor due to flooding.

Tribal spokesman Ben Cloud told the Billings Gazette that an incident command center has been set up in Crow Agency, and Cedric Black Eagle, the tribe's chairman, declared a state of emergency on the reservation.

Much of the state has been anticipating flooding for at least a week and it appears to have started in earnest.

"It's the cumulative effect that's the problem," said Victor Proton, a senior meteorologist based in Glasgow. "There are multiple creeks out of their banks."

He said an unknown number of anglers became stranded in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge when roads washed out. He said authorities were formulating a plan Saturday afternoon on how to get them out.

He said water was flowing over State Highway 191 in central Montana in Fergus County due to the dam that broke.

On Friday, Gov. Brian Schweitzer met in Great Falls with emergency officials from six counties to prepare for possible flooding.

Montana Disaster and Emergency Services Director Ed Tinsley told the Great Falls Tribune that agencies are preparing for flooding in many areas because of the potential.

Proton said the state has received about three times more rain than normal so far this year.

"That's on top of having our all-time record snow over the winter," he said. "None of this has helped."

No injuries have been reported so far, the meteorologists said.

They said the flooding could become worse on Sunday but could subside somewhat as the rain moves out of the area on Monday.

But Lester noted problems will likely continue as water moves downstream.

"We're going to keep having some flooding issues for several days," he told The Associated Press on Saturday. "Maybe all of next week even. The water has to go someplace, and there's lots of it."


Information from: Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com

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