The flooding at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation south of Havre is getting statewide and national attention.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer is touring the area today and Montana’s U.S. senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester are sending a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency urging FEMA to help assess the damage and repair it.
“It is critical that the damage assessment is completed as soon as possible so that every needed resource can be made available as soon as possible,” Baucus and Tester wrote to FEMA Administrator William Craig Fugate Tuesday. “Lives could depend on the speed of the recovery effort.” Rocky Boy officials report that the flooding, coming just weeks after snowmelt and rain in May also caused flooding, has left 205 homes without water, caused serious damage to five homes, damaged some 500 other residences and led to the evacuation of 38 homes downstream from the Rocky Boy Agency dam.
Evacuated families are staying in hotels in Havre or with friends, Tribal officials said. A total number of people who left their homes was not available.
Lowland flooding also has saturated the area between Beaver Creek Dam south of Havre and the confluence of Beaver Creek and the Milk River, including inundating Beaver Creek Golf Course just west of Havre.
Residents along the Milk River and its tributaries in Blaine County also are being warned of flooding.
Lowland flooding has started on the western edge by the border of Hill and Blaine counties extending to Chinook, and the river is expected to continue to rise from Chinook to the Phillips Co u n t y l i n e, Bl a i n e Co u n t y Commissioner Vic Miller said Tuesday.
The rising levels are expected to continue through the week, probably cresting Friday at midnight, Miller said.
The county officials are not anticipating evacuations, but residents should be very careful when approaching the creeks and rivers, he said.
Miller warned people living near the river to monitor the levels and act accordingly, saying that, especially due to the high level of debris coming from the tributaries Lodge Creek and Battle Creek as well as in the Milk River, livestock, farm and irrigation equipment could be damaged or injured.
Miller said that, based on readings and moisture levels in Canada, two more surges are expected in the Milk River in the next seven to 10 days.
Miller said that, while no request has been made as yet, Blaine County also has offered to help Hill County and Rocky Boy if aid is needed in dealing with the flooding.
The road to the reservation’s clinic and the clinic itself was also damaged by the flooding. A temporary clinic has been set up in the reservation’s road department, and the Chippewa Cree Tribal government is asking for help setting up clinic facilities.
Schweitzer, touring the flooding just two days after he toured the damage caused by a tornado in Billings Sunday, plans to appeal directly to federal emergency officials for assistance, Mo n t a n a Di s a s t e r a n d Emergency Services spokeswoman Monique Lay said.
A state team has been sent to Rocky Boy to help assess the damage, and a FEMA team is expected to arrive today. A complete assessment of the damage, however, will be difficult until the water recedes.
Rocky Boy reports that the agency dam is at its highest level Tribal officials ever have seen, which led to the evacuation of the 38 homes downstream.
Tribal officials are working with engineers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs state emergency personnel to find ways to reduce the water levels in flooded areas.
Tester also addressed the issue — along with other disasters like the Billings tornado and the storm in Froid that killed Ramona Ryder — on the floor of the Senate Tuesday.
“It’s not just Billings that felt the force of wild weather this last week,” Tester said.
“Further north the community
o f Ro c k y Boy ’ s I n d i a n Reservation is still trying to tally up the damage after a powerful rainstorm.
“In the Bear Paw Mountains there is word that water wiped out entire roads, dozens of families in the area were forced out of their homes,” he said.
He called on the Senate to help the people rebuild.
“Mr. (Senate) President, I ask you and all of my colleagues to stand with myself and Senator Baucus to offer any support that we can to the Billings and Rocky Boy’s communities, to those folks up in the Bear Paw Mountains,” he said. “And especially to those folks who have to start from scratch, because, as we know all too well in Montana, it takes working together to rebuild.
“And, we will become stronger,” he added