Clean-up Time in Polson, Libby

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – People in Polson and beyond cleaned up tree limbs, fencing and other debris Thursday after a tornado blasted the area and storm damage extended north and west to Libby, toppling a screen at a drive-in theater.

“My yard is trashed,” said Beth Smith of Polson, whose 7-year-old daughter frightened by the storm Wednesday night wanted refuge in a basement, but the family home doesn’t have one. The child sat on an interior staircase during the tornado, which the National Weather Service said was confirmed by a trained weather spotter who reported the twister touched down northwest of Polson at about 8 p.m.

The Libby Drive In, offering “Live Free or Die Hard” at carload prices, lost its movie screen and perimeter fencing as wind ripped the town and dumped rain that a spotter estimated at 4 inches in 30 minutes.

The power system run by Flathead Electric Cooperative had widespread outages Wednesday night, spokeswoman Stephanie Wallace said. Service largely was restored before dawn Thursday but in the Bigfork area the outage continued at midday, leaving some 3,000 co-op members without service, Wallace said.

At various places around Polson on Thursday, trees were horizontal and their roots protruding.

Steve Stanley of the emergency management office for Lake County, of which Polson is the seat, launched a boat Thursday on Flathead Lake to assess damage along part of the shoreline.

“As nasty as (the storm) was, I’m amazed that on the lakeshore I’m not seeing the damage I thought I would,” Stanley said.

The National Weather Service in Missoula sent several meteorologists to the area Thursday, for damage assessments, said the agency’s Bob Nester.

“Estimates are easily (that there were) 70- to 80-mile-an-hour winds,” said Nester, adding there had been no tornadoes in the area during his seven years at the Missoula office.

Western Montana’s unusually hot weather in recent days “contributed to the amount of energy in the storm,” he said.

Missoula alone has posted 18 consecutive days with temperatures of 90 degrees or higher, nudging the record of 20 days in a row, he said. Missoula’s high Wednesday was 102.