A tree has cracked under the weight of snow along the Hi-Line.

Paula Brady, Contributed

Hundreds of households along the Hi-Line were still without electricity Wednesday after a brutal winter storm swept through the region Monday. Some outages could continue into next week.

At least 209 power poles were still down in Fort Belknap and Dodson as of Wednesday afternoon, NorthWestern Energy said on its Twitter account. Some residents would be without power into the weekend, the energy company stated.

The power outage map on NorthWestern's website showed more than 500 customers still without power, along with additional unconfirmed reports scattered along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor.

Roughly 75 percent of Big Flat Electric Cooperative's 1,100 customers were still in the dark by Wednesday afternoon, according to general manager Gretchen Boardman.

"Some of them we're hoping to get on today, but we have some of them that could possibly be out as long as three to five days," Boardman said.

Contract crews have been brought in from other electric cooperatives, and roughly 100 power poles and other structures were still broken, she added.

In an email sent Wednesday afternoon, Denise Kovacich with Hill County Electric Cooperative said the utility did not know how many customers were without power.

In a separate emailed statement, cooperative spokeswoman Bethany Chinadle stated that crews were working to fix outages, which occurred throughout the utility's coverage area, but did not indicate when power would be restored.

Fort Belknap

The loss of power further postponed a community council primary election on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation that originally had been scheduled for Tuesday. 

Tribal Community Council President Mark Azure said he had spoken with NorthWestern energy Wednesday and was told some power might be restored Wednesday night. 

As for the election, Azure said he was hoping voting could take place Friday, but it was possible the election might be delayed until next week. 

Though power outage is widespread, Azure described snowfall reports ranging greatly across the reservation. On the northern end some areas saw about 5 inches of snow. Going southward, snowfall reports ranged from 18 inches to more than 36 inches, Azure said.

"It's crazy that that short storm, as short as it was, came and dumped as much snow as it did," he said. "From the Dodson area south to Lodgepole we lost a lot of power poles. They just snapped like toothpicks." 

NorthWestern Energy and Big Flat Electric Cooperative each provide service to the reservation. 

"We appreciate everything the electrical companies are doing for us," Azure said. 

Three emergency shelters have been set up to provide food and shelter. One is at Fort Belknap Agency; another is at the Hays-Lodgepole middle school in Lodgepole; and a third is in Hays at the Kills At Night Center. 

Some residents were still snowed in Wednesdsy, Azure said.

"We're just asking people to step up to give us a hand, give your neighbor a hand, just like small communities do anyway," Azure said. 

Additional aid is on the way from the American Red Cross, he said. 

The declaration of emergency Azure issued Tuesday remained in effect Wednesday he said. Once power is restored and polling stations can be set up with voting machines, then the primary election will take place. 

"We want to give every tribal member an opportunity to go and cast their ballot, and we wouldn't have got that Tuesday," Azure said. "And I didn't want people out on the roads in any of those conditions. As it is people end up leaving vehicles stranded in the ditch because they slid off and now they're completely covered in snow.

"Most of us went to bed Monday night with no power and we woke up Tuesday morning the same way," Azure said. "Even today, this morning, every one of us, and there's about 4,000 members living on the Fort Belknap Reservation, I hadn't heard that anybody actually had power. 

Gazette reporters Sam Wilson and Michael Kordenbrock contributed to this story.



Morning Reporter

General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.

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General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.