ROUNDUP, Mont. – One of the hardest-hit towns in flood-soaked Montana took another blow Wednesday, as record flooding struck the small agricultural community for the second time in two weeks and forced residents to flee homes they had just started to clean up.
Fueled by record rains and melting snow, the Musselshell River gushed into Roundup's low-lying neighborhoods. Cars and trucks left behind were nearly submerged, and the ground floors of some homes were swamped by the river before it began receding.
Officials evacuated between 30 and 35 residences and businesses on the southern end of the central Montana town.
It was a repeat of a scene that occurred last month when the Musselshell flooded dozens of homes and businesses in Roundup. Much of the town was inundated for almost a week, contributing to Gov. Brian Schweitzer's request for a presidential disaster declaration for Montana.
Some residents were clearly frustrated to see the muddy river again gushing across their lawns and into their homes.
"We just had all this pumped out, and I'll be damned. What a waste of money," said Mike Balich, 66, as he looked over his flooded neighborhood.
Balich's house is a couple of hundred yards from the river, near a dike that had breached last month. He said he removed 12 trailer loads of ruined property from his house and a neighbor's house — and now fears he may have to do it yet again.
Still, this time Roundup was better prepared. Some residents had time to lay sandbags around their homes. And the city built protection around its water system, which was compromised during the first round of high water.
Along Highway 12, an earthen levee was built to fill in a washed-out railroad bed that had been a source of flooding in the town two weeks ago.
But after the river overtopped the levee Wednesday morning, the makeshift structure quickly eroded and water began pouring into parts of the town by afternoon, said Jolene Sealey with Musselshell County Disaster and Emergency Services.
Across from the levee, Elaine Krueger had closed her gun and pawn shop and was packing up the guns and ammunition to store them at a friend's house.
"I'm not going to trust the new levee they put over there. I'm going to get as much as I can out," she said.
More than 5 inches of rain fell Monday night between Rapelje and Ryegate, according to the National Weather Service. The combination of rain and mountain snowmelt caused the river to rise above flood stage from Harlowton to Roundup, the weather service said.
Major flooding stage for the Musselshell is 11 feet at Roundup. Last month, the river broke a record by swelling to a record 12.9 feet. The river had already surpassed that record by Wednesday morning, cresting at 14.1 feet, according to the weather service.
It was expected to drop to just over 10 feet by Friday afternoon.
Forecasters predicted rain for the Roundup area Thursday, possibly up to an inch.
On Wednesday, flood warnings covered much of the rest of the state, stretching from southwestern Missoula to northeastern Glasgow.
The Lewis and Clark County Commission declared a flood emergency Tuesday and officials issued an evacuation advisory for at least a half-dozen homes in East Helena.
Paul Spengler, emergency operations manager for the county, told the Independent Record on Wednesday the East Helena sewage plant was flooding, water was coming out of the manholes and the system can't keep up.
Heavy rain in western Montana on Wednesday was expected to lead to sharp rises in water levels and possible landslides.
Upstream from Missoula, the Clark Fork River was expected to rise 2 feet above major flood stage by Saturday, threatening East Missoula homes and roadways in the area, meteorologists said.
Rivers and streams in other Western states, including Wyoming and Colorado, also continued to rise with mountain snowmelt.
Flood warnings remained in effect for much of Carbon and Albany counties in southeast Wyoming, as well as Lincoln County in western Wyoming.
A flash flood watch was posted Wednesday for the east side of the Bighorn Mountains and lower elevations of Johnson County, Wyo., because of the threat of rain falling on swollen creeks and streams. And a flood advisory was posted for northwest Wyoming, including Yellowstone National Park.
In Idaho, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter planned to visit three counties in the eastern part of the state Thursday to survey damage caused by flooding rivers in the region.
All three counties — Jefferson, Madison and Bingham — were under a state disaster declaration for flood damage and risk.
On the Missouri River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is pushing record amounts of water through dams to get rid of the unexpectedly heavy rains that fell last month in eastern Montana and Wyoming and western North Dakota and South Dakota.
The river is expected to crest 5 to 7 feet above flood stage in Iowa and Nebraska next week, but the water will remain high until at least August.
In Nebraska, state officials have been in close contact with the flood-affected counties, are keeping an eye on possible road closures and can deploy 2,000 National Guard members at a moment's notice, Gov. Dave Heineman said Wednesday.
"We need to be prepared for the unexpected," Heineman said during a stop in Blair as he toured flood-affected towns in eastern Nebraska. "As sure as I'm sitting here, something's going to happen that we're not thinking of."
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