ZooMontana closes due to rising water; evacuations in place in Musselshell County

2014-03-09T12:45:00Z 2014-06-18T17:06:36Z ZooMontana closes due to rising water; evacuations in place in Musselshell CountyBy CHRIS CIOFFI ccioffi@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

With temperatures nearing 60 degrees on Sunday, melting snow continued to cause flooding in Yellowstone, Musselshell and Big Horn counties, surrounding homes in the Shepherd area and prompting ZooMontana to close for the day.

Theresa Schultz first noticed water rising around her home Saturday at about 9 p.m.

She didn’t get much sleep as the water began to fill up her crawl space.

“By 3 a.m. this morning, I didn’t have a front step,” she said. “My furnace, my pump. I’ll be without water for a while.”

All she has to keep the house warm are space heaters.

Schultz won’t be able to leave to rent pumps and fans to dry things out until the water subsides enough so she can move her car out of the driveway.

“There’s nowhere for the water to go. We’re kind of stuck here,” she said.

Schultz’s property flooded once before, 20 years ago, but she said she didn’t buy flood insurance.

“If it happens once every 20 years, it pays for itself,” she said. “I don’t think we lost too much stuff, just junk.”

Down 12 Mile Road from Schultz, Patty Faber’s home sits up on a ridge overlooking the normally tame 7-foot-wide Crooked Creek.

The waters grew fierce Friday and Saturday as levels got high enough to fill most of the valley. The raging waters were so loud they woke up Faber and her husband last night.

“I didn’t know what it was,” she said. “There was enough moonlight still that I could see it.”

“You can hear it, it’s just rolling and roaring,” she said.

Faber’s street was cut off from 12 Mile Road after water began to flow across it Saturday night. That’s what has worried her the most, she said.

“If it does come up, how do we get out of here?”

Razor Creek Road in Shepherd is closed after a 5-foot section of soil closest to the bridge on the north side was washed out. Twelve Mile Road has been reduced to one lane.

ZooMontana was closed Sunday after more than three feet of water covered some of the zoo’s paths.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Jeff Ewelt, ZooMontana’s director.

He said the zoo does have a contingency plan in the event of this type of emergency.

“None of the animal houses are in danger yet, but if they do, we’ll be able to move them safely,” Ewelt said.

By Sunday afternoon, the waters began to recede, but the threat of precipitation early in the week made Ewelt uneasy.

“We’re just worrying about the rain,” he said. “It’s terrifying to think about.”

The National Weather Service is predicting a stormy days ahead in the Billings area.

Scattered showers will arise after midnight Sunday as a Pacific weather system, laden with moist air, moves into the area.

Low temperatures near 36 and cloudy skies are expected. Winds will slow to between 14 and 21 mph.

Precipitation will continue into Monday as highs reach 44. Morning rain will turn to afternoon snow, but accumulation will be less than an inch.

Snow will continue Monday night as lows dip to 27. New snow accumulation of three inches is predicted.

Ice jams have been reported on the Little Bighorn River near Lodge Grass and flooding in Crow Agency has been reported, according to Ed Auker, Big Horn county’s disaster and emergency services coordinator.

Water is flowing across some roads in Big Horn County, he said.

Officials in Laurel and Carbon County said floodwaters have stabilized or receded there.

It’s a waiting game for residents in Musselshell County, as a 5-mile stretch of river is held back by several ice jams.

As a small jam broke free, people lined up along the Musselshell Bridge to watch blocks of ice as large as cars pass under their feet.

Ice cracked and trees groaned when they smacked the side of the bridge, carried downstream by the raging waters.

“There’s an awful amount of ice,” said Musselshell resident Nancy Rademacher, who stood with a small crowd.

She hopes the flooding will pass, but said the rising river reminds her of 2011, when water flooded a whole section of Roundup.

“It’s kind of scary to see it come through again,” Rademacher said.

Musselshell County has ordered evacuations of the Riverside Avenue area and the area off of Mine Avenue.

“The rivers are above flood stage,” said Musselshell County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Jeff Gates.

“We got another wave coming that’s about two feet high,” he said.

About 40 people have already been evacuated, said Gates.

The dike that protects the town of Roundup from the river, built five feet taller after being breached in 2011, got its first big test Friday night.

“The ice was higher than the dike by three feet,” he said. “I thought we were going to have to hit the panic button and evacuate town, but the ice broke and the water went down.”

The water was just a foot below the top of the dike Sunday afternoon.

Low spots have been fortified with sand bags, but the waiting continues.

“We’re not sure what water’s coming,” Gates said. “Time will tell what’s going to happen.”

For more information about conditions in Roundup, call 406-323-2777 or search Roundup DES on Facebook.

For road closures or updates in Big Horn County, call 406-665-1731

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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