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Montana river recedes, but floodwaters likely to resurge

May 12, 2018

Ross Colyer, a Missoula City Police officer, loads sandbags into a boat to ferry across a flooded yard to build up a wall around a residence in Missoula, Mont., Friday, May 11, 2018. Montana rescuers pulled a man from raging floodwaters and authorities warned of dangerous debris being swept downstream as water levels continued rising Friday in rivers and streams across the western half of the state. (Kurt Wilson/The Missoulian via AP)

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s Clark Fork River near Missoula began to recede Saturday after cresting at its highest level in a century, but the floodwaters are expected to surge again next week with no end in sight for the hundreds of homes threatened.

The river crested Friday night at 13.82 feet (4.2 meters), its highest level since 1908, after knocking trailer homes off their foundations and sweeping trees and other dangerous debris downstream.

Cooler weather is re-freezing the mountain snowpack, which has slowed the snowmelt rushing into the river and will allow the water level to drop slightly over the next few days, National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Leach said.

But the river will remain in major flood stage until temperatures warm up again and push the river back up starting Tuesday to possibly another record level by next Saturday, he said.

Moderate to major flooding is expected to continue for weeks, which may create a problem of complacency among the residents of the hundreds of homes that are threatened, Leach said.

“This is kind of becoming the normal right now, where we’re really settled into the flood,” he said. “Don’t get complacent, the river is still dangerous and it’s still flooding.”

Authorities have ordered the evacuation of about 65 homes, though many have refused to leave, and more than 800 others are under an evacuation warning. One injury has been reported so far, that of a man rescued from a transient camp surrounded by water who was treated at a hospital for possible hypothermia.

Much of the western half of Montana saw record or near-record snowfall this winter that is now rapidly melting.

Flood warnings have been issued for the Sun River near Simms in central Montana, along with Tenmile Creek outside Helena and parts of Jefferson and Broadwater counties. More than 100 homes remained threatened near Lincoln due to flooding along the Blackfoot River.

The cold weather that will re-freeze the mountain snowpack above Missoula is also expected to bring a late-season snowstorm to Yellowstone National Park and northern Wyoming. Between 1 and 4 inches could fall overnight on Old Faithful, with up to 7 inches (17.8 centimeters) of snow forecast in some of the highest elevations.

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