HELENA – Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer asked the president Wednesday to declare a major disaster in the flooded state, as a break in the weather allowed residents to dry out and prepare for another round of high water that could arrive in the coming weeks.
A presidential disaster declaration would provide federal assistance in repairing damaged infrastructure and removing hazardous materials.
The flood-soaked Crow Indian Reservation and counties across Montana were moving to make repairs after up to 8 inches of rain fell in some places last week, causing widespread flooding and hitting central and eastern Montana particularly hard.
Schweitzer included 37 of Montana’s 56 counties along with five American Indian reservations in his request to President Barack Obama.
“This incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments,” Schweitzer said in his request.
Federal emergency teams were expected to begin assessing the flood damage to infrastructure in Montana on Thursday. Typically, damages greater than $1.2 million qualify for federal assistance, Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ricardo Zuniga said.
An expected rise in temperature next week could increase snowpack melting and river levels but likely won’t cause major flooding, meteorologist Keith Meier said.
The mild forecasts pushed fears of serious flooding further into June.
Hard-hit Big Horn County was preparing for more problems by ordering 50,000 sandbags. Officials on the Crow reservation planned to use about 10,000 of those bags to protect septic operations and other important areas.
Many of the reservation’s facilities were damaged by floodwater that forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes last week. The reservation’s septic facility was not operating and residents were advised to boil tap water before drinking it.
Some families returned to their homes, and the tribal government was working to repair roads and pump out flooded basements.
Other displaced residents were relocated from Billings to a new shelter on Crow Agency.
Red Cross spokesman Charles McCaul said there were 158 Crow reservation evacuees at a shelter on the Montana State University-Billings campus. On Friday, they will be moved to the new shelter on Crow Agency being prepared to accommodate 220 people, he said.
The water has declined in Roundup by several feet. Some store owners have been able to get back into their flooded properties for the first time, said Musselshell County director of Disaster and Emergency Services Jeff Gates.
Still, the Musselshell River was well above flood stage and meteorologists said it could stay that way for another week.
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