HELENA – Montana authorities ordered the evacuation of 60 homes Tuesday as the rising Clark Fork River submerged a neighborhood west of Missoula and potentially threatened hundreds of additional residences.
The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office issued the evacuation order for the houses and trailers closest to the river in the Orchard Homes neighborhood in the state’s second-largest city. Authorities have set up a shelter at a Missoula church and asked people who leave their homes to check in with the sheriff’s office.
Just a day earlier, sheriff’s deputies went door to door in the neighborhood to warn people of possible evacuations. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Brenda Bassett said she didn’t know how many people left as a result of those warnings – or how many are likely to defy the order.
“We don’t have a gauge of that just yet,” she said.
The river has been rising for days as the near-record snowpack high in the mountains surrounding the city melts in the warm spring weather. The Clark Fork is at moderate flood level and is expected to keep rising until Friday, with forecasters predicting it will surpass 13 feetfor only the sixth time in recorded history.
If that happens, the flooding could affect at least 800 homes from eastern Missoula to west of the city where the Clark Fork meets the Bitterroot River.
Bassett said there is no timeline to expand the evacuation order.
Avista’s two largest electricity-generating dams are sited on the Clark Fork near the Montana-Idaho border. Noxon Rapids Dam is just east of the border in Montana, while Cabinet Gorge is west of the border in Idaho upstream of where the river flows into Lake Pend Oreille.
Outside Helena, water from the flooding Tenmile Creek has entered an unknown number of homes, Lewis and Clark County emergency coordinator Reese Martin told Gov. Steve Bullock in a briefing Tuesday.
Martin said officials have handed out 38,000 sandbags as residents in the valley use them to line roads and encircle homes and a school.
County officials have rented two 8-inch pumps to divert some water, which has contaminated at least one well in a trailer park, Martin said.
The Flathead and Yaak rivers in northwestern Montana are also threatening to spill from their banks and cause minor flooding near Columbia Falls and Troy, according to the National Weather Service.
Pockets of the Inland Northwest, including Okanogan and Bonner counties, are in similar situations, with flooding expected this weekend. In Washington, major flooding was reported Wednesday on the Okanogan River near Tonasket and on the Kettle River near Ferry.
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