Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Saturday deployed 53 soldiers from the Montana National Guard to the Crow Reservation to assist with flood response.
A news release from Montana Army National Guard Maj. Tim Crowe said the soldiers were to arrive in Crow Agency on Saturday.
"The guardsmen's primary mission will be to provide unarmed security checkpoints within the community to enhance public safety and maintain security of property within evacuated areas," the release said.
Crowe said the soldiers will be at 10 checkpoints and would begin their duties at about 3 p.m. A small group arrived earlier in the day to scout out locations for the checkpoints.
Guard spokeswoman Maj. Lori Hampa-Chamberlin said the soldiers' primary mission will be providing those basic security services and advising people trying to access those areas.
"We're neighbors helping our neighbors," she said. "They're having a very difficult time down there and they need some more resources. We're on tap to help out our friends."
If the need arises for other services, such as sandbagging for new flooding, Hampa-Chamberlin said there are more soldiers available.
The soldiers come from the 190th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion out of Billings. The deployment places the soldiers on active duty for as long as 15 days, but that duty can be extended.
"As flooding continues to threaten the state, the Montana National Guard will continue to maintain a high state of readiness to respond to communities statewide," the news release said. "Currently there are 2,400 Montana National Guard members available to respond to the governor's direction."
Much of the reservation has been waterlogged since heavy rains earlier this week dropped up to 10 inches in some areas, causing widespread flooding. More than 300 people were staying at an American Red Cross of Montana shelter in Billings as of Saturday.
More rain is expected to come over Memorial Day weekend. The National Weather Service predicts between 1 and 3 inches to fall over the southeastern part of the state through Monday. That same storm is expected to drop between 12 and 18 inches of snow in the Beartooth Mountains.
Meteorologist Todd Chambers said the only positive is that the rain and lower temperatures are postponing the snowmelt. He said the freezing level was at 8,400 feet on Saturday, and will be down to 7,000 feet on Sunday, meaning Red Lodge could see some snowfall.
"Anything above that is not melting today, which is good news. That will take water out of those main streams and rivers that would have normally been there," Chambers said. "But then we are replacing it with the rain."
The foothills could get a rain and snow mix, Chambers said, including Billings.
Those temperatures are expected to drastically change, reaching the high 70s and low 80s starting Wednesday.
"That will quickly melt off any of the snow that fell over the storm systems over the last few weeks," Chambers said. "That water will come out pretty quickly."
He said none of the winter snow has melted yet.
On May 19, Schweitzer declared a state of emergency in Montana due to widespread flooding. The declaration, among other things, allowed easier and faster access to National Guard resources if needed.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed an executive order Friday to deploy teams from the Wyoming National Guard to help communities around the state with sandbagging and flood preparation.
For residents in Joliet, relief came in the form of efforts to shore up the banks on Rock Creek after blockage and heavy rains caused it to spill over and send 18 inches of water barreling down Main Street on Wednesday.
On Friday, Carbon County and Joliet officials spoke with representatives from the Montana Department of Transportation, Schweitzer's office and area landowners because they're concerned it could happen again.
Chambers said a similar situation could happen in places throughout Montana.
"Over the drought peirod we had the last 10 years or so, we had a lot of debris that accumulated in a lot of these water ways," Chambers said. "Fish and Rock Creek have a lot of cottonwood downfall, and it's dislodging a lot of that.
"That could happen in other places and other bridges. Almost any bridge structure has a possibility for log jams and debris jams."
Work on the banks near Two Mile Bridge, where the breach happened, began Saturday morning and could continue through Monday, Carbon County Commissioner John Grewell said.
You have free articles remaining.
"It's a major undertaking," he said. "There's a lot of equipment out here. It's like a highway project out there."
The plan is to build up the creek's bank about 6 feet for roughly two-tenths of a mile with riprap and lowering an old railroad grade that helped funnel the water into town.
City Councilman John Francis, who argued the need for such immediate action at a Thursday community meeting, said crews are also cutting away a large gravel bar that has built up and forced the channel into the bank.
Grewell said that in the event of another breach, crews can now dig out a patch of Highway 212 about two miles south of Joliet that would divert water back into the creek.
"We'll need to get that water diverted back into the creek before it gets into town," Grewell said.
Francis said the undertaking is a step in the right direction and that the county commissioners, governor's office, local property owners, Riverside Construction, the City Council and transportation department all played huge roles in getting the work started so quickly.
Grewell said they had to get permission from property owners around the work and that the transportation department is covering the work.
The town of Roundup and many areas along the Musselshell River remain flooded with up to 6 feet of water after the river reached historic highs of more than 10 feet.
Chambers said the Musselshell River near Roundup was at 12.98 feet on Saturday, well above the 11-foot flood stage. He said the water level is expected to drop to 12.5 feet on Sunday.
"It will be a fairly slow decline here over the next several days," Chambers said. "If we didn't get anymore rain or anything, maybe by June 1 we'd get down right to flood stage. The problem is we are going to get some more rain in the next couple of days."
Jeff Gates, Musselshell County's disaster and emergency services coordinator, said water levels are down but that there's so much of it, people aren't seeing much of a difference.
"It's 6 feet deep in one place and half a dozen deep in the other," he said. "It's down a foot, but that's not helping a lot. We've got a lot of distance to go before we're in the clear."
Crews worked Saturday to get water supply back to the town, pump water out of the area and repair breaches in a railroad berm.
In addition to the flooding in Roundup, Gates said he knows of 19 structures affected by flooding in the Musselshell area and six in Melstone.
"I'm sure there are more," he said. "We just can't get to them right now."
Roads in and out of Roundup remain closed except for Highway 87 to the north. Gates said about 80 percent of the roads in the county are closed.
"Some of those roads may not open for months, some roads may not be ready for years," he said. "It all depends on how much federal assistance we can get."
A community meeting will be held at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the community center. People interested in attending can call DES at 323-2777.
To the west along the Musselshell, Highway 12 from Harlowton to Lavina, and to near Roundup, reopened despite water on parts of the road and continued flooding of homes and fields along the river.
In Yellowstone County, officials continue to monitor river levels and a washed-out canal near Huntley, which caused flooding near the Huntley Bridge where Pryor Creek meets the Yellowstone River.
County Commissioner John Ostlund said commissioners will meet with Huntley officials Tuesday to discuss a plan to repair damage and prevent future flooding.
Sandbags are available through the weekend at the Sheriff's Office, which sold nearly 10,000 of them Saturday and had to restock late in the afternoon.
Schweitzer, who took an aerial tour of Eastern and central Montana on Friday, said rivers and creeks all over the area remain swollen, including the Judith and Smith rivers.
He added that melting snowpack will likely cause more flooding later this spring.
"This isn't over tomorrow, it's not over at the end of the week," he said.