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Montana Cities Brace For More Flooding Yellowstone River Crest Passes Livingston, Heads For Billings

The flood crest of the Yellowstone River left beleaguered Livingston behind Monday and aimed its threat downstream at Billings and Miles City, flooding rural areas in a 70-mile stretch along the way.

On Monday, Park County officials closed the emergency operations center that had coordinated the fight against the river for some two weeks.

“They tell us the peak was Friday,” said Mary Jo Svalina, emergency services director.

Good news for Livingston meant trouble downstream, however.

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for Miles City, 145 miles downstream, where the Yellowstone already is at flood stage.

But Custer County officials were uncowed.

“The river is on the rise,” said Jim Zabrocki, emergency services director. “But the only chance of flooding in Miles City is if the dike breaks, and it will not break. There will be only lowland flooding.”

No lowland flooding was reported Monday.

Water from torrential rain that swamped Billings briefly Sunday night began flowing into area rivers Monday, adding to the flood threat from record-level amounts of melting snow in the mountains.

Billings and Yellowstone County officials announced they would supply residents with up to 50 sandbags each- 50 cents for a bag only, $2 with sand, no delivery. Anyone unable to pay can get the bags free of charge by signing a declaration.

Water from melting snow, heightened by warm temperatures and rain, is pouring out of the mountains into the Yellowstone and Upper Missouri rivers, the state Disaster and Emergency Services Division said.

At Glendive, 75 miles farther downstream, the Yellowstone is at its highest levels most people could remember.

A 16-year-old boy from Glendo, Wyo., drowned in the powerful current Saturday while he was fishing with some adults at Intake Diversion, 15 miles east of Glendive.

The body had not been recovered Monday. Dawson County Sheriff John Kahl withheld the boy’s name.

“There are 30- to 40-foot cottonwood trees coming down the dam like matchsticks,” said Kahl.

Jim Kraft, Yellowstone County emergency services director, reported extensive flooding over the weekend and some evacuations in rural areas from Park City, 20 miles west of Billings, to Custer, 50 miles east. Several families were evacuated over the weekend, but at least some were able to return by Monday. Officials had no firm count.

“It’s getting desperate” out in the county, Priscilla Fairlee, assistant coordinator, said Monday. “Flood stage is 13 feet. We are at 14 and a half, and it’s going higher.”

The river was licking at two aged dikes in the community of Huntley, just east of Billings, and water forced closure of the Pompeys Pillar national monument about 25 miles east of Billings.

The dikes at Huntley were weakened by age and lack of maintenance, said Jerry Ellis, engineering and operations manager at Yellowstone Valley Electric cooperative in Huntley.

“One of them, a county dike, is gradually going downstream and allowing some water into lowland areas around Huntley,” Ellis said. “We’ve just discovered another dike immediately across from our offices … is gradually eroding away, so we and our neighbors are throwing riprap into it.”

The Rit Bradshaw family’s small ranch is immediately adjacent to the dike and will surely be flooded if the dike fails, Ellis said.

Huntley residents were muttering about lack of help from the state and county.

“I’m sure they’re thinking about their budgets, but in the meantime we’re getting our feet wet,” Ellis said.

Billings was mostly recovered Monday from an hours-long downpour Sunday night that flooded the city briefly without help from the surging river.