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Worst of Hill County flooding is over


Rapid snowmelt Thursday overwhelmed city street drains in Havre and creek beds in Beaver Creek Park, but officials say the damage was far from severe and expect the worst is over.

"This is a pretty normal thing for us. You get a big runoff, whether it's a rain or a big snowmelt," Hill County planner Clay Vincent said this morning. "Now most of it's gone and we have to deal with the cleanup."

Ponds accumulated on city streets, particularly where First Street joins with U.S. Highway 2 Northeast and on Sixth Avenue, as water ran faster than the system could drain it away, Havre director of public works Dave Peterson said.

"The drains were running to capacity," he said.

Dave Hand, Havre maintenance director for the Montana Department of Transportation, said water was running over Montana Highway 234 in Beaver Creek Park in some spots, but the problem was not severe.

The main concern was that the flooding would destroy a temporary detour bridge 11 miles south of Havre that was built as part of a highway construction project in the park, but when it was checked this morning it appeared to have survived all right, Hand said.

The department had to clear a couple of culverts that weren't flowing to full capacity north of the viaduct in Havre, he added.

Jim Morsette, water resource director at the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, said there was high runoff on the reservation Thursday, but it has diminished today.

Bonneau Dam filled and had water running over the spillway, but it was never in any danger of breaching, Morsette said.

Box Elder Creek was overflowing its bank in places, and the Water Resource Department put the reservation's law enforcement officials on alert and had emergency personnel on standby. That is a standard procedure in the reservation's early-warning procedure, Morsette said.

Vincent said Hill County road supervisor Jerry Otto and his crews were surveying other roads in the county to determine how much flood damage had occurred.

Other areas of the state experienced more severe flooding. At least eight roads in and around Helena were closed Thursday as melting snow swamped fields and overflowed several creeks, authorities said.

High runoff was also reported in Bozeman where volunteers worked to keep water from entering a school. Water was up to a foot deep in the Sacajawea Middle School parking lot and had also entered a maintenance building.

Students and teachers at the school were away on spring break.

''Warm weather is melting the fields and the water isn't going into the ground,'' said Bozeman street superintendent John Van Delinder. ''We've been fighting this all over town.''

In Helena, Lewis and Clark County officials declared a local emergency Thursday afternoon and two more sites began dispensing sandbags to residents.

Two shelters were set up for residents unable to return home from work, but county officials said Thursday no one was staying there. School officials also opened up a middle school for stranded students and canceled four bus routes for this morning.

The flooding comes as temperatures reached a record-high 69 degrees in Helena a week after the area received 2 feet of snow.

No injuries have been reported. Residents east and west of Helena have reported flooded basements and water ranging in depths from 3 inches to a foot has been reported over some roads. Motorists also reported one small mudslide may have closed a road crossing Silver Creek northwest of Helena.

The high water prompted county officials to suggest residents boil well water for five minutes before drinking or to use bottled water.

Peterson said the dams south of Havre served their purpose, although there were spots where Bullhook Creek was within a foot of flooding its banks in Havre.

Bullhook Dam south of Havre was empty at 2:30 p.m., but had about 7 feet of water in it by 6 p.m. It had about 15 feet this morning, Peterson said, but it could have held 15 to 20 feet more before water would have started going over the spillways.

"That's what they're there for. That's what their purpose is, is to hold the water coming in from south of town," he said.

Vincent said water from the runoff was going over the spillway at Beaver Creek Lake by 2 to 3 feet Thursday.

"We figure the big surge has come and gone, but it did fill the lake," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.


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