Utah not the only Western state hit hard by rain, flooding

May 24 2011 - 3:15pm

Images

The Little Bighorn River floods homes and businesses in and around Lodge Grass in this aerial view on Sunday, May 22, 2011. Flood waters swallowed swaths of Montana farmland and other low lying areas on Sunday as authorities contended for a second day with rising creeks and rivers in the eastern region of the state. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Larry Mayer)
The Worden Volunteer Fire Department battles a fire in a home in the flooded area along Pryor Creek in Huntley, Mont., Sunday, May 22, 2011. Pryor Creet is flooding the Pryor Creek Golf Course and homes along the creek in Huntley. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Larry Mayer)
Tom Mahan takes a picture of a section of Pryor Creek Road south of Huntley, Mont. that was washed away from flood water in Pryor Creek on Sunday, May 22, 2011. Widespead flooding in the area closed a stretch of Interstate 90 from Hardin, Mont. to Ranchester, Wyo. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Paul Ruhter)
Flood water from the Little Bighorn River covers Interstate 90 near Crow Agency, Mont., in this aerial view on Sunday, May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/The Billings Gazette, Larry Mayer)
A man walks across South Canal Road in Huntley, Mont. on Sunday, May 22, 2011 as flood water from Pryor Creek inundates a neighborhood and spills over into a canal. Widespead flooding also closed Interstate 90 from Hardin, Mont. to Ranchester, Wyo. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Paul Ruhter)
The Little Bighorn River floods homes and businesses in and around Lodge Grass in this aerial view on Sunday, May 22, 2011. Flood waters swallowed swaths of Montana farmland and other low lying areas on Sunday as authorities contended for a second day with rising creeks and rivers in the eastern region of the state. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Larry Mayer)
The Worden Volunteer Fire Department battles a fire in a home in the flooded area along Pryor Creek in Huntley, Mont., Sunday, May 22, 2011. Pryor Creet is flooding the Pryor Creek Golf Course and homes along the creek in Huntley. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Larry Mayer)
Tom Mahan takes a picture of a section of Pryor Creek Road south of Huntley, Mont. that was washed away from flood water in Pryor Creek on Sunday, May 22, 2011. Widespead flooding in the area closed a stretch of Interstate 90 from Hardin, Mont. to Ranchester, Wyo. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Paul Ruhter)
Flood water from the Little Bighorn River covers Interstate 90 near Crow Agency, Mont., in this aerial view on Sunday, May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/The Billings Gazette, Larry Mayer)
A man walks across South Canal Road in Huntley, Mont. on Sunday, May 22, 2011 as flood water from Pryor Creek inundates a neighborhood and spills over into a canal. Widespead flooding also closed Interstate 90 from Hardin, Mont. to Ranchester, Wyo. (AP Photo/Billings Gazette, Paul Ruhter)

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Flooding on the Crow Reservation and elsewhere in Montana has prompted widespread evacuations and forced emergency teams to ferry water and other supplies to an isolated community near the Wyoming border, authorities said Tuesday.

The frenzied rescue effort on the rural reservation came as states across the Northern Plains and Rockies were grappling with rising waters caused by heavy rainfall on already saturated ground.

More rain is forecast through the end of the week. Forecasters warned that rain at higher elevations could accelerate the melting of mountain snowpacks and exacerbate low-land flooding.

More rain Tuesday brought rivers and streams up again in eastern and central Montana after a brief break in the weather Monday. In Yellowstone County, authorities suspended their search for a 47-year-old man feared to have been swept away by a flooding creek.

Sheriff Mike Linder said heavy rains had grounded a helicopter crew searching the area where the man was last seen Sunday near Pryor Creek. It was uncertain when the search would resume.

Limited evacuations were under way along the Musselshell River in Golden Valley and Wheatland counties, law enforcement officials said. In Ryegate, officials were scrambling to reinforce a dike that shields the low-lying town of 300 people from the Musselshell.

On the Crow Reservation, residents of a nursing home and hospital patients in Crow Agency were transferred to Billings over concerns about water contamination from a flooded sewage plant.

The hospital, which also serves the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, was accepting emergency cases only, Crow spokesman Jared Stewart said. The hospital in nearby Hardin was at capacity.

A nearby assisted living center for the elderly remained open, but water supplies were limited and one tribal representative said he expected the center to be closed soon.

"There still is running water, but they're asked to conserve as much as possible," said Ben Cloud, whose 68-year-old mother is at the center. "I'm keeping my eye on my mother right now in case she needs to get evacuated. We're ready to roll out with her."

Cloud had served as the tribal spokesman until he had to deal with a cottonwood tree that fell because of the floodwaters and landed on his house.

A 60-mile stretch of Interstate 90 was closed, from Hardin to the Wyoming state line. There was no word on when it might reopen, said Lori Ryan with the Montana Department of Transportation.

Lodge Grass remained largely cut off by the surging Little Bighorn River.

On Monday, some residents were able to drive through the floodwaters to reach Sheridan, Wyo. But that route was closed Tuesday after water partially undermined a bridge needed to get out of Lodge Grass.

Supplies were being ferried into Lodge Grass from Crow Agency across a flooded section of Interstate 90. Up to 2,000 people live in the Lodge Grass area, but tribal officials said they did not know how many were still there.

State and federal officials across the Rockies and Northern Plains warned citizens who live along rivers and streams to be ready for extensive flooding as soon as recent cool weather gives way and mountain snowpack begin to melt in earnest.

The Red Cross said a shelter at Montana State University Billings was likely to stay open for at least the next week. About 150 people were in the shelter Tuesday, said Red Cross spokeswoman Lori Grannis.

In Idaho, state officials were watching two regions particularly closely -- agricultural lands in the southeast along the Snake River and the heavily timbered mountains of northern Idaho along the Coeur d'Alene River and Lake Coeur d'Alene.

So far, only agricultural areas have been impacted by high water, with no damage reported to residential or municipal areas, said Robert Feeley, a spokesman for the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security.

Feeley's office has shipped about 150,000 sandbags to northern, southeastern and western Idaho, where communities on the banks of the Weiser River were watching the water warily because there are no dams on the river to control water. Several pumps were relocated to strategic locations, in case they're needed to disperse water from behind strained levies.

In Utah, where heavy rains over the weekend triggered at least four mudslides across the state, a flood warning has been issued for portions of the Ogden River until Wednesday.

Major flooding has become a growing worry at lower elevations in northern Utah, where snowpack is well above what it was during the massive floods of 1983 that caused $250 million in damage, wiped out crops, homes and businesses, and flooded downtown Salt Lake City.

"It's like we've already shot ourselves in the left foot and now we're aiming to the right ... the high elevation snowpack just keeps getting bigger and with the cold weather this week, we won't see major melting until June," said Randy Julander, a supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead called the situation regarding heavy snowpack and the potential for flooding around the state "a grave concern."

Snowpack in the Snowy Range in southeastern Wyoming is the highest in at least four decades, the Wyoming Department of Transportation said Tuesday.

After road-clearing crews encountered heavy snow drifts up to 20 feet deep, the agency said it won't be able to open the highway across the Snowy Range by its traditional opening date on Memorial Day weekend.

Some roads in South Dakota's Black Hills National Forest were closed, and a North Dakota park and golf course were flooded. Crews were sandbagging at a tourist town and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and a major state highway is closed in two spots.

In Colorado, forecasters said heavy rainfall and thunderstorms dumping 2 to 4 inches of rain were possible through Wednesday morning.

 

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