Montana town floods for second time in 2 weeks

By MATTHEW BROWN | June 8, 2011 | 1:59 PM EDT

ROUNDUP, Mont. (AP) — One of the hardest-hit towns in flood-soaked Montana took another blow Wednesday as record flooding struck the small agricultural community for the second time in two weeks, forcing dozens of residents from homes that they had just started to clean up.

The Musselshell River gushed into Roundup's neighborhoods, nearly submerging cars and swallowing the ground floors of homes.

Officials evacuated between 30 and 35 residences and businesses on the southern end of the central Montana town near the river, said Randy Holmes a disaster and emergency services volunteer.

It was a repeat of a scene that occurred last month in Roundup, when the Musselshell flooded dozens of homes and businesses. Much of the town was inundated for almost a week, contributing to Gov. Brian Schweitzer's request for a presidential disaster declaration for Montana.

But this time, Roundup was better prepared for the high water fueled by record rainfall combined with the melting snowpack.

Residents had time to lay sandbags around their homes and the city built protection around its water system, which was flooded during the first round of high water, Holmes said.

But some were clearly frustrated to see the river creep up their lawns and into their homes for the second time in two weeks.

"We just had all this pumped out, and I'll be damned. What a waste of money," said Mike Balich, 66, looking over the water that had reached his home.

Balich's house is a couple of hundred yards from the river, near a dike that had breached last month. He said he removed 12 trailer loads of ruined property from his house and his neighbors' houses and now he fears he may have to do it yet again.

In another part of town, a makeshift earthen levee has been built to fill in a washed-out railroad bed that had been a source of flooding in the town two weeks ago. The river was overtopping the dike Wednesday, and the levee appeared to be eroding.

Across from the makeshift levee, Elaine Krueger had closed her gun and pawn shop and was packing up the guns and ammunition to store them at a friend's house.

"I'm not going to trust the new levee they put over there. I'm going to get as much as I can out," she said.

More than 5 inches of rain fell Monday night between Rapelje and Ryegate, according to the National Weather Service.

The combination of rain and mountain snowmelt will cause the river to rise above flood stage from Harlowton to Roundup, the weather service said.

Major flooding stage for the Musselshell is 11 feet at Roundup. Last month, the river broke a record by swelling a record 12.9 feet.

The river had already surpassed that record by Wednesday morning. It was at 13.7 feet and rising, said weather service meteorologist Brian Schuknechd.

It was expected to reach nearly 15 feet by Friday morning, he said.

Flood warnings also covered much of the rest of the state Wednesday, stretching from southwestern Missoula to northeastern Glasgow.

The Lewis and Clark County Commission declared a flood emergency Tuesday and officials issued an evacuation advisory for at least a half-dozen homes in East Helena.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter at a church for displaced families and emergency crews are working to sandbag at-risk areas.

The Clark Fork River above Missoula was reaching moderate flood stage Wednesday and could reach major flooding by Thursday.