Montana Flood News Roundup For May 8, 2018

May 8, 2018

Update: 6:15 p.m. This post will be updated throughout the day as news develops.

A mandatory evacuation order issued today in Missoula affects all Orchard Home-area residences on Missoula’s Tower Street to the North of 3rd Street.

That includes  Kehrwald, Channel Drive, Nancy Lou, Keck Street, and Stone Street to the North of its intersection at Flamingo Drive.

“Their window has closed in terms of those final preparations. There’s water in the area, whether it’s moving water or standing water – it’s time to go.  It’s not safe to be there anymore," says Missoula County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Branda Bassett.

Southwest Incident Management team spokesman Mel Holz says the Army Corps of Engineers has inspected all the levees in the Orchard Homes area.

"They said that they do not predict with the current forecasts that water will be going over those levees. Right now those levees are holding and are looking like they’re in good shape."

Downstream in Sanders County, officials are keeping a close eye on the eroding river bank behind the sewage lagoons in Plains. The swollen Clark Fork River has recently washed away over 12 feet of river bank, putting those lagoons at risk.

Sanders County Emergency Manager Bill Naegeli says the Army Corps of Engineers is now on the job building a reinforced levee. He’s confident they’re going to solve the problem.

"We've got the Army Corps here to stabilize the bank. As soon as we get that done, we do have some room. I’m not too worried about it," Naegeli says.

Helena Public Schools announced on Tuesday that Rossiter Elementary is now completely closed due to flood waters. No traffic of any kind is allowed on the property. School officials hope all K-5 classes will resume classes at Carroll College.

Lewis and Clark County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Reese Martin says overall, the flooding isn’t as bad as some may fear.

“According to the county engineer that I spoke to, we're probably at, maybe the seven to eight-year floodplain level, we're not at the 25 year or the 100 year, so it's not like it was in 2011, or god forbid in 1981, I'm being told."

Martin says that while there are no more than four inches of water covering most roads, motorists should be aware of dangerous water levels nearby, especially in ditches.

Update: 4:45 p.m.

Residents in Missoula's Orchard Homes area have been ordered to evacuate. The Missoula County Sheriff's Office released the following order minutes ago:

Residents in the Orchard home area are now on an evacuation order. The area includes the following:

  • All residences on Tower Street to the North of 3rd Street,
  • Kehrwald, Channel Drive, Nancy Lou, Keck Street, and Stone Street to the North of its intersection at Flamingo Drive

Also, under an evacuation order are the residents of Schmidt Road and the road called “Off Mullan Road.

Road blocks will also be set up at Tower and 3rd, Nancy Lou and 3rd and Flamingo and Stone.

An emergency shelter is located at Christ the King Church, 1400 Gerald Avenue in Missoula. For more information call 258-INFO (4636).

An information booth has also been set up in the parking lot of Wheat Montana or you can call 258-INFO.

Missoula flood evacuation orders and warnings as of 3:55 p.m. 05/08/18.
Credit Missoula County Sheriff's Office

“Their window has closed in terms of those final preparations," says Missoula County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Brenda Basset There’s water in the area, whether it’s moving water or standing water – it’s time to go. It’s not safe to be there anymore.” 

Bassett says this is probably not be the last round of evacuations.

"They’re constantly re-assessing those areas, looking at maps and going out to look at what this water is doing. It’s unpredictable. As of right now these are the only orders we have in place. We’ll keep re-assessing that situation"

Meanwhile, in Seeley Lake, there's a public meeting on flooding scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m. at the Seeley Swan High School, 456 Airport Road for residents who may be impacted by flooding.

Update: 3:35 p.m.

Evacuation orders for residents of Missoula's Orchard Homes area will be issued soon, according to officials from the Missoula County Sheriff's Office and the Southwest Incident Management Team.

Officials have not yet released any details, boundaries or timetables for the evacuation orders expected in the next few hours.

For residents in the area, now is the time to prepare and gather what you can. Once evacuations begin, road-blocks will be set up and no one will be allowed back into the area. Some people could be out of their homes for a couple weeks or more.

Evacuees are asked to check in at Wheat Montana at 3rd and Reserve St.

Update: 12:30 a.m. 05/08/18

Residents of one of Missoula’s most flood-prone neighborhoods gathered Monday night to hear the latest from local authorities. There was precious little good news to share.

Sixty-one year-old Mary Sackett lives on Kodiak Drive and relies on a wheelchair and oxygen.

“I’m scared to death I’m going to lose our home and all of our memories," Sackett says. "What happens if all of a sudden, the dike breaks in the middle of the night and I wake up to five feet of water in my house? I’m not going to be able to get myself out."

Sackett lives near what’s being called Polygon 3 these days. Polygon 3 is part of a map of Missoula’s low-lying Orchard Homes neighborhood. It covers an area north of Third Street, including the north end of Tower and Stone Streets. It’s flooding now, and another two feet of dirty, freezing-cold water is expected to push in soon. 

According to Sheriff T.J. McDermott, Polygon 3 is home to hundreds of structures and will probably be the first place to fall to the Clark Fork River.

"That area most likely will go into an evacuation order based on the rising water level," McDermott said Monday night.

McDermott also said last night that he would not be surprised if the current flood warning was bumped up to a mandatory evacuation order as early as this morning.

Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott addresses residents of Missoula's Orchard Homes neighborhood, May 8, 2018. Sheriff's deputies issued flood evacuation warnings for hundreds of homes in the neighborhood Monday.
Credit Edward O'Brien

Missoulians in flood prone-threatened areas are urged to sign up for Smart911 which provides emergency alerts on your cell phone via text, email and/or a phone call.

Missoula Office of Emergency Management Director, Adriane Beck, reminded the standing-room-only crowd of at least 100 people in the Hawthorne Elementary School gym that, "By the time they come knocking at your door, by the time your phone rings and they say, ‘it’s an evacuation order’, it’s time to leave now. Start thinking about what you need to take with you, where you’re going to go and how you’re going to communicate with your family should you become separated in that condition."

Missoula Health Department Officials warned Orchard Homes Residents that if their wells were fully submerged by flood water to assume those wells are now contaminated. Septic systems covered by flood waters are no longer treating wastewater.

The mood in the room grew tense last night with residents accusing authorities of essentially ignoring some streets, failure to make any infrastructure improvement since the last big flood back in 2011, and demanding to know why construction continues in such a flood-prone part of Missoula.