Custer County declares flood disaster

Section of Miles City's levee system eroded away
2011-05-11T10:45:00Z 2011-05-11T23:40:20Z Custer County declares flood disasterBy LORNA THACKERAY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

Custer County commissioners have declared a disaster in the wake of a storm that swamped roads throughout the southeastern Montana county.

"It's pretty ugly," James Zabrocki, Custer County Disaster and Emergency coordinator, said Wednesday morning. "It's pretty much countywide."

Road crews were out Wednesday assessing the damage. Zabrocki said he had already received numerous reports of impassible and washed-out county roads.

With the disaster declaration, the county commissioners can seek funds to help cope with the damage.

Miles City will also declare an emergency, the DES coordinator said, but "it's no big deal."

A small section of the city's levee system eroded away in high water, he said. A temporary repair is in place.

Because high water lies ahead with the melting of an outsized mountain snowpack, Miles City wants to be prepared if there are other problems with the levee in coming weeks.

An emergency declaration now will put the city in position for future assistance, he said.

Zabrocki said no reports of property damage had come in yet, but that he had seen water rising toward a trailer home Tuesday afternoon.

He estimated that up to 4 or 5 inches of rain fell during a storm that began late Sunday and poured rain on the county through Tuesday.

The National Weather Service reported that 2.22 inches of rain fell on Miles City on Tuesday alone, nearly doubling the old May 10 record of 1.40 inches set in 1967. Tuesday's rainfall tied July 29, 1985, as the sixth rainiest day on record in the city.

Reports from NWS observers throughout the county show 5 inches of rain 39 miles southeast of Miles City; 4.35 inches 9 miles east of town; and 4.34 inches near Ismay.

A flood warning was issued shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday for Custer County. The Tongue River was experiencing minor flooding near Miles City, as was the Powder River.

Flood stage on the Tongue River there is 11 feet. It stood at 12.44 feet Wednesday morning and crested at 12.55 feet at 1 p.m. before starting to fall. It is expected to drop below flood stage Wednesday afternoon.

The Powder River at Locate was at 10.12 feet Wednesday morning — a foot above flood stage.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks closed the 12 Mile fishing access site south of Miles City on Wednesday because of high water from Pumpkin Creek and the Tongue River. The access road has water flowing over it and damage has occurred to the road surface.

Flood warnings were also issued Wednesday morning for small streams in central Park County.

The NWS said flooding was mainly west of Livingston along Billman Creek. Damage to a bridge and flooding in trailer homes was reported.

Local officials were monitoring a bridge along Miller Drive, which was expected to give way.

The NWS released storm totals for much of the area Wednesday morning that showed most in the 2-to-3-inch range.

The total at Billings Logan International Airport was 2.82 inches. It was just a few tenths of an inch higher in southwest Billings. But five miles east of Billings, a weather observer collected 3.5 inches.

Other totals include 3.33 inches near Fort Smith; 3.50 inches near Boyd and Joliet; 3.05 inches north of Red Lodge; 3.95 inches 23 miles southwest of Ekalaka; 3.71 inches west of Plevna; 3.18 inches near Melstone; 3 inches southeast of Roundup; 3 inches near Forsyth; and 3.28 inches east of Columbus.

Lorna Thackeray can be reached at 657-1314 or lthackeray@billingsgazette.com

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