Relentless snow and wind has closed nearly every highway on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and search and rescue teams have to use snowmobiles to deliver essentials to those who live in the reservation’s remote corners.
Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Harry Barnes said snow and wind have hammered the reservation for more than a week, forcing the tribal government to declare a state of emergency. Earlier this week, an incident command post was established in Browning to help organize search and rescue teams and distribute food, blankets and firewood to those who can’t leave their homes.
Some parts of the reservation have received nearly six feet of snow since Feb. 1.
“I don’t think any of this is going to melt until July,” Barnes said.
Robert DesRosier, the incident team commander, said usually after a big storm a thin layer of ice will form on the snow, preventing it from blowing around. But because of the extreme cold temperatures of the last few weeks, that crust has never formed and the snow never stops blowing around. He said roads are packed with snow almost as soon as they are plowed. The windblown snow also creates nearly impossible driving conditions.
The National Weather Service in Great Falls issued a blizzard warning for the Blackfeet Indian Reservation through Saturday morning. Wind gusts up to 75 miles per hour were expected to hit the area overnight.
DesRosier said at least four search and rescue teams were working out of the incident command post in Browning. On Friday afternoon, they were trying to rescue people who got their cars stuck near Heart Butte.
The United Methodist Church and the Red Cross have opened up a shelter in Browning.
Travel on area highways has become so unpredictable that officials decided to have additional supplies from the Flathead Valley sent aboard Amtrak instead of via automobile.
“We’re doing everything we can to help people,” Barnes said.
Officials were urging people to keep an eye on the Blackfeet Nation/Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Facebook page for the latest information.