By Ross Markman
The tenant living in the basement of Russell Williams' 11th Street North rental unit now calls the Budget Inn Motel home. More than 3 feet of rain and mud saturated his apartment Saturday night, destroying just about everything he owns.
Williams returned the tenant's June rent. He helped him rescue whatever was salvageable. He even offered him a place to stay until the renter found another place to live.
The renter's case isn't an isolated one. The north side, east end and other areas of Havre were flooded last weekend after more than 2 inches of rain overflowed city storm drains onto city streets and into Havre homes.
About two dozen of these residents attended a meeting Thursday night at City Hall to assess the damage to their homes and learn what they can do next.
"If there's some way we can help you, we're going to try to do that," Havre Mayor Bob Rice said. "But I make no promises tonight."
What Rice did promise was a temporary solution to a problem that's afflicted Havre residents for at least 50 years.
Jay Springer, president of Milk River Engineering, has suggested that a diversion be built at the southeast corner of the city just below Glo-ed near Havre High School.
"What happens is the water comes down there right now and hits all the drains on the east end first and uses up all the capacity," Springer said. "This would hold it up long enough, but it wouldn't totally solve the problem either."
Rice anticipates the project will cost a few thousand dollars and hopes it will be completed by August.
"This is a short-term fix as far as I'm concerned," he said. "I'm telling you, we're going to take care of the problem. You just gotta give me time. And 2006 is the best I can do."
That's when the Montana Department of Transportation has planned to begin reconstructing First Street, a project that includes an overhaul of the city drainage system.
"If we had the money, we'd fix the problem right now," Rice said. "Some of you have been through this entirely too many times."
Havre resident Steve Engelhardt agreed. Engelhardt's mother, Kathryn, has lived in her 16th Avenue home for more than 40 years. The city's drainage system, he said, has always been inadequate.
"In 1959, the storm sewers were a problem. This should have been taken care of a long time ago," Engelhardt said.
Jerry Gould, a resident of Kila in western Montana who owns and rents out a duplex on 12th Avenue, said that property was not flooded with water, but with sewage. He suggested that city sewer lines may be damaged.
"It's possible there's some fissures in your sewer lines because we got quite a rush," Gould said. "It flooded the entire basement."
East end resident Ingrid Cartwright told Rice that the city should be held accountable for the flooded homes.
"It's a city problem. Shouldn't the city have some responsibility?" she asked. "The city's being negligent here. How difficult is it to dig a hole and put in another storm drain?"
The meeting was led by Dan McGowan, planning bureau chief from the state Division of Disaster and Emergency Services. McGowan advised all in attendance to focus on getting help.
"The one thing I can promise you is I will knock over every door and kick over every stone to try to find you help," he said.
McGowan had each person fill out a form detailing the damage to their home and how much they estimate the loss will cost.
"I need to know exactly what your needs are," he said. "I'm going to assume that your insurance company doesn't cover this."
Flood coverage typically is offered only through the National Flood Insurance Program, which is available to residents who live in communities that participate in the program, according to the state auditor's office. Both Havre and Hill County participate in the program. The federal government backs the program, but private-sector insurance companies and agents licensed in Montana can sell the insurance.
Ray Moaney, a representative from the American Red Cross in Great Falls, said people should ask the Red Cross for help if they need it. Because of the flooding, he said, many have lost food, clothing, prescription medication, and in some cases, their homes.
"When we're faced with a disaster, our biggest concern is whether or not you have a safe place to live," he said. "Our main goal is to get you into a safe environment and get you back home as soon as possible."
If you need assistance, contact the Havre branch of the Red Cross at 265-1500.