MORNING UPDATE: Interstate 90 remains closed between Hardin and the Wyoming state line as floodwaters continue to cover the highway Monday.
INITIAL REPORT: Surging floodwaters kept Interstate 90 closed Sunday south of Hardin and left low-lying sections of Lodge Grass under 4 feet of water.
All roads into the town on the Crow Indian Reservation were closed by high water.
“I expect it’ll be three or four days before we can get out,” said Lodge Grass Mayor Henry Speelman. “But we’ll have to try to get some people out tomorrow that are on dialysis.”
The situation isn’t as desperate as it could be, he said. Despite rumors to the contrary, town water is still available and uncontaminated.
Officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Forestry Division and the Crow Tribe are working with the town to get other needed supplies, Speelman said. Repeated efforts by The Gazette throughout Sunday to talk to emergency officials with the tribe and the BIA were unsuccessful.
The owners of the flooded Lodge Grass IGA store have given permission for the Red Cross to salvage what it can from store shelves to shore up food supplies, the mayor said.
Areas of the southern end of the reservation received 4 to 6 inches of rain in the past several days, and saturated ground sent most of it hurtling into creeks and streams.
When rain-swollen Lodge Grass Creek hit the Little Bighorn River just south of Lodge Grass, water started backing up on the lower portions of town, flooding Main Street. Powerful floodwaters washed out a bridge on Lodge Grass Creek on the south entrance to town and high water cut off access to Interstate 90 on the north, the mayor said.
Speelman said the IGA was flooded with about 4 feet of water, as was the post office and Lodge Grass Propane and Supplies. An estimated seven or eight houses in Lodge Grass and many more in the rural area were flooded.
Big Horn County Commissioner John Pretty On Top, who lives in Lodge Grass, said floodwaters also soaked the Baptist Church, the REA Building and every house on the west side of town.
The Red Cross set up a temporary shelter at Lodge Grass High School, which sits on the highest point in town. Speelman said 21 people spent the night there Saturday. Others probably stayed with relatives as the floodwaters advanced, he said. Evacuation was not mandatory, but many took the precaution of leaving.
Pretty On Top said the county had an airplane flying to check for anyone who may be stranded. He said he had heard of people in four vehicles high-centered near Good Luck Road as they tried to get out through back roads.
He said there is talk of trying to get a helicopter to drop food to Lodge Grass and Wyola.
The water level appeared to have receded about 4 inches from its peak Saturday, Speelman said, but it has a long way to go.
An emergency center has also been set up at Wyola, and Cody Not Afraid expected rural residents fearing rising waters would take shelter Sunday night.
Building a berm
At Crow Agency, the Little Bighorn River was touching the bottom structure of a bridge near town, and water was running a few inches deep in the streets near Little Bighorn College. Ed Auker, county Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator, said water was not in the buildings and a berm was being constructed to try to channel it back into the river.
Flood stage for the Little Bighorn River near Hardin is 8 feet. Sunday afternoon it was at 9.25 feet. At Wyola, the Little Horn was running at more than twice its usual volume for May 22.
Auker said that in addition to the closure of I-90 from Hardin to Ranchester, Wyo., high water has swamped many roads throughout the county.
“If Highway 47 isn’t closed, it should be,” he said at midday Sunday. The highway connects Hardin to Custer and Interstate 94.
The road between Pryor and Billings is closed, as is U.S. Highway 315 between St. Xavier and Fort Smith. Auker said he has heard reports of water running 2 feet over bridges at Rotten Grass Creek and Soap Creek, both tributaries of the Bighorn River.
U.S. Highway 212 between Crow Agency and Lame Deer was closed. At the intersection of 212 and Interstate 90 — the road to Little Bighorn Battlefield and Lame Deer — water was over the hood of a vehicle that went around a barricade set up there, he said. No one was hurt.
The Little Big Horn Camp and Motel at the intersection was covered nearly to its roof in flood water. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument was closed Sunday because of the flooding.
Chris Kortlander, who owns the town of Garryowen and operates the Custer Battlefield Museum just beyond the intersection, said the town and museum were dry. The parking lot of his museum and business complex was full Sunday morning with cars that had traveled up from Wyoming, but could go no farther.
Elsewhere across the region
It would be easier to list places in central and Eastern Montana that are not swamped with floodwaters.
“We’ve got flooding in every county,” said Tom Humphrey, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Billings.
He ticked off a long list of inundated counties: The Yellowstone and the Tongue rivers are over their banks near Miles City in Custer County. Roads are washed out everywhere there.
“They’ve got flooding all over the place,” he said.
In Rosebud County, the Yellowstone is above flood stage at Forsyth and basements throughout the county are filling because of high groundwater. U.S. Highway 12 is closed between Ingomar and Forsyth.
Barns and homes are flooding along Rock Creek below Cooney Dam in Carbon County. Some roads in Stillwater and Sweet Grass counties are impassible, he said.
Up to 6 inches of rain in Fallon and Carter counties have washed out roads and threatened bridges. In southern Carter County, stock dams have failed and Box Elder Creek has closed U.S. Highway 323 south of Ekalaka. U.S. Highway 277 is closed and possibly washed out in spots. Groundwater is flooding many basements.
In Fallon, several bridges have water flowing over them and are in jeopardy of being washed out, including City Bridge in Baker and Brown Bridge.
Late Sunday, Old Highway 10 east of Hysham was closed to all but local traffic.
Lorna Thackeray can be reached at 657-1314 or firstname.lastname@example.org