By the end of this week, the Crow Tribe will be assuming care for 30 flood-displaced people still sheltered in the tribe’s Multipurpose Building at Crow Agency.

About 20 tribal workers are being trained to take over for the Montana American Red Cross, which has been providing disaster relief since May — a total of 42 days.

“Now, after six weeks of this disaster operation, it’s time we begin to make appropriate transitions for long-term care,” said Kurt Weirich, a Red Cross veteran with 20 years of experience as a relief operations director on disasters nationwide.

The American Red Cross provides short-term aid by offering food and shelter and helps develop recovery plans for victims, he said.

About 200 homes on the reservation were damaged or destroyed as the Little Bighorn swamped its 119-mile-long river valley, said April Tonieeta, an engineer coordinating relief efforts for the tribe.

Besides tribal members staying at the Multipurpose Building, she said, the tribe is working with seven displaced families not eligible for shelter care.

“Under Red Cross rules, once you leave a shelter for 48 hours, you can’t re-enter,” she said. “These families went home, but following assessments, were advised that their homes were not in a safe condition.”

They are living where they can for the moment, Tonieeta said, but will be able to move to the Multipurpose Building when the shelter transitions to the tribe Friday or Saturday.

Tribal and state officials were meeting Wednesday in Crow Agency to discuss whether flood damage will overwhelm state, tribal, local and private resources, including insurance, said Monique Lay, spokesperson for Montana Disaster and Emergency Services. Most individual homeowners on the reservation do not have flood insurance.

If the extent of the disaster is severe, the governor may ask for assistance to individuals under a presidential disaster declaration already in place.

“But we try to take care of things ourselves first,” Lay said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

Tonieeta said the tribe is waiting to hear whether assistance to individuals will be available through FEMA under the declaration. If it’s not, the tribe is ready to apply for help from other sources. Among the possibilities are “imminent threat” grants through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, she said.

Lay said that if individual assistance becomes available from FEMA, it will be “very basic — just what is needed to get them back into a habitable home that is structurally sound with sewer and water.”

“It won’t rebuild homes or paint walls,” she said. “People believe FEMA will come back in and rebuild their homes. That’s just not true.”

Tonieeta said the tribe, with the help of volunteers, is already working to get people out of the shelter.

Some can’t go home because of saturated walls and floors. Others fear mold


“We’ll be requesting mold mitigation assistance,” she said. “We’re hoping to get people back home as soon as possible.”

The tribe is also keeping an eye on several families who have moved back into residences that may or may not be safe.

Faith Chapel, one of Billings’ largest churches, has helped the tribe make big strides in cleaning out damaged homes, she said. Church volunteers will be back on the reservation Saturday to help repair them.

“I just can’t say enough about the volunteers who have come to help and all the donations,” she said. “Yellowstone County has really stepped up.”

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Lorna Thackeray can be reached at 657-1314 or lthackeray@billings