While people are trying to get through the latest round of flooding in the region, local officials have been quietly, behind the scenes, preparing to once again go through the next step: recovering from the third major flood disaster in four years and repairing the damage.
The Hill County disaster response team — the Hill County Commission declared a disaster last Wednesday — held an organizational meeting Monday in the emergency operations center at the Hill County Justice Center.
“I think we’re kind of unique.” Hill County Commissioner Jeff LaVoi, incident commander for Hill County, said during the briefing.
With the disaster experience on the team, dealing with the third flooding disaster in four years, LaVoi said he believes the team will be able to take the proper action smoothly and quickly to deal with the ongoing flooding and take steps to repair damage and prevent future damage.
“We’ve got years’ worth of experience with the same type of flood,” LaVoi said.
Flood warnings are still in effect for the area, with National Weather Service citing high levels in Big Sandy Creek, still 2 feet above flood level, and high levels in other streams including Beaver Creek and Clear Creek.
Flooding in 2010 led to presidential disaster declarations for Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and Hill County, and even more widespread flooding in 2011 led to disaster declarations for most of the region and much of the state.
Joe Parenteau, Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator, said after Monday’s meeting that he expects the total damage, once fully tallied, to be as high or higher as in 2011.
Haley Gustitus, DES coordinator for Blaine County, said the estimate as of Wednesday last week — the Blaine County Commissioners declared a disaster Thursday — was at $200,000. The damage in 2011 was $195,665, she said.
This year, after a relatively dry winter and early spring, rain socked in starting about May 16, soaking the region for more than two weeks and dropping more than the normal total for a year in some areas.
At Beaver Creek Park, where work still has not been completed on some projects from the 2010 flood — park superintendent Chad Edgar still is working on getting the federal government to release funds in some cases — the storms dropped 13 ½ inches of rain in just more than two weeks.
Parenteau said the damage in the region — Gov. Steve Bullock declared an emergency for 14 counties and two reservations, including the Rocky Boy’s and Fort Belknap Indian reservations and Blaine, Chouteau and Hill counties — could total enough to lead to a federal disaster declaration for the region once again.
A state disaster declaration frees up state assistance, while a federal declaration brings in the Federal Emergency Management Agency to oversee assessment and planning and approve federal assistance in disaster recovery.
In Chouteau County, flooding in the last few weeks led to an emergency declaration but DES Coordinator Linda Williams said, but not an disaster.
Only one road, Upper Highwood Creek, remained closed and Williams said she expected it to be reopened by today.
The briefing Monday focused on setting up the chain of command and delegating authority to the team members, and in how to keep — and the importance of — accurate, thorough records.
Parenteau briefed the team on filling out required FEMA forms for different communications, record keeping using the computer program Excel, and using email to send all communications and requests.