By 10 a.m. Friday, the last of the Crow flood evacuees — 90 in all — left the temporary Red Cross shelter at Montana State University Billings and headed back to the reservation where those still needing help will stay in a shelter set up at the Crow Multipurpose Center in Crow Agency.
“We’re prepared to be here for the duration,” said Charles McCaul, an emergency services manager for the American Red Cross.
But so far, no one knows how long that will be.
The evacuees have been at MSUB’s Petro Hall for the past week and a half. At the height of the effort, the dormitory housed 330 people. That number dropped to about 200 at the start of this week, and by Friday morning, just 90 were left.
Officials weren’t sure if those 90 — or more — would use the shelter provided by the Red Cross on the reservation. By 1 p.m. Friday, only a dozen flood victims had checked in.
“It’s totally in flux,” McCaul said. “We have no idea if we’re getting more people or less people.”
In the shelter, volunteers have set up 110 cots and have supplies ready to help as many as 200. For right now, they’ll just wait to see who arrives.
Alvin Stewart III, a Crow Indian helping with the move Friday morning, said families were anxious to return to their homes. Many of the flood victims have been traveling back and forth to the reservation to check on their homes and properties, he said.
They’re finding a lot of damage, a lot of mold, he said.
Those who were living in trailer homes that flooded likely have no place to which they can return. As the floodwaters rose around the trailers, floors simply dropped out and the walls warped, said Brian Lamoure.
Lamoure, who works for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, was loaned out to the state’s Disaster and Emergency Services, which sent him down to the reservation last week to help the tribe with its public information campaign.
“Some people lost everything,” he said. “They need to start all over.”
With that, he said, the response has shifted from emergency management to recovery.
Those who don’t stay at the shelter have returned either to their homes or moved in with family. Many of the houses ravaged by floodwaters are still undergoing inspections, as officials check for structural damage, mold, electricity and gas.
Stellar Bulltail — who had her children with her at the MSUB Red Cross shelter until last week when school resumed in Crow Agency — has no home to return to. Her children are staying with family and she said they’d likely all move into the new shelter until she could figure out her next move.
As such, she expressed a lot of appreciation for the all the help she’s received.
“If it wasn’t for the Red Cross, I don’t know where we’d be, how we’d do it,” she said.
Still, the move to the new shelter will be a noticeable change of condition.
Instead of a cot or air mattress on a cold gym floor, the dormitory at Petro Hall had beds and cots in individual rooms, showers, three meals a day, a gym with a pool, plus movies with snacks at Petro Theater for the kids.
Looking at the rows of cots spread across the gym floor at the Crow Multipurpose Center, the amenities from MSUB will surely be missed.
“Some (didn’t) want to leave,” Stewart said. “We’ve been spoiled.”