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N. Plains, Rockies hit hard by rain and flooding

SHARE N. Plains, Rockies hit hard by rain and flooding

BILLINGS, Mont. — Flooding on the Crow Reservation and elsewhere in Montana has prompted widespread evacuations and forced emergency teams to ferry water and other supplies to an isolated community near the Wyoming border, authorities said Tuesday.

States across the Northern Plains and Rockies were grappling with rising waters caused by heavy rainfall on already saturated ground.

More rain Tuesday brought rivers and streams up again in eastern and central Montana after a brief break in the weather Monday. In Yellowstone County, authorities suspended their search for a 47-year-old man feared to have been swept away by a flooding creek.

Sheriff Mike Linder said heavy rains had grounded a helicopter crew searching the area where the man was last seen Sunday near Pryor Creek. It was uncertain when the search would resume.

Limited evacuations were under way along the Musselshell River in Golden Valley and Wheatland counties, law enforcement officials said. In Ryegate, officials were scrambling to reinforce a dike that shields the low-lying town of 300 people from the Musselshell.

On the Crow Reservation, residents of a nursing home and hospital patients in Crow Agency were transferred to Billings over concerns about water contamination from a flooded sewage plant.

The hospital, which also serves the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, was accepting emergency cases only, Crow spokesman Jared Stewart said. The hospital in nearby Hardin was at capacity.

A nearby assisted living center for the elderly remained open, but water supplies were limited and one tribal representative said he expected the center to be closed soon.

"There still is running water, but they're asked to conserve as much as possible," said Ben Cloud, whose 68-year-old mother is at the center. "I'm keeping my eye on my mother right now in case she needs to get evacuated. We're ready to roll out with her."

Cloud had served as the tribal spokesman until he had to deal with a cottonwood tree that fell because of the floodwaters and landed on his house.

A 60-mile stretch of Interstate 90 was closed, from Hardin to the Wyoming state line. There was no word on when it might reopen, said Lori Ryan with the Montana Department of Transportation.

Lodge Grass remained largely cut off by the surging Little Bighorn River.

On Monday, some residents were able to drive through the floodwaters to reach Sheridan, Wyo. But that route was closed Tuesday after water partially undermined a bridge needed to get out of Lodge Grass.

Supplies were being ferried into Lodge Grass from Crow Agency across a flooded section of Interstate 90. Up to 2,000 people live in the Lodge Grass area, but tribal officials said they did not know how many were still there.

Continuous rainy weather across the Northern Plains has saturated the soil, raising the risk that showers could produce some flash flooding.

Forecasters also were keeping a keen eye on weather at high elevations, where rain could accelerate the melting of mountain snowpacks that in some cases are twice as deep as average.

State and federal officials warned citizens who live along rivers and streams to be ready for extensive flooding as soon as recent cool weather gives way and mountain snowpack begin to melt in earnest.

The Red Cross said a shelter at Montana State University Billings was likely to stay open for at least the next week. About 150 people were in the shelter Tuesday, said Red Cross spokeswoman Lori Grannis.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead on Monday called the situation regarding heavy snowpack and the potential for flooding around the state "a grave concern."

Snowpack in the Snowy Range in southeastern Wyoming is the highest in at least four decades, the Wyoming Department of Transportation said Tuesday.

The transportation department reported that crews have encountered heavy snow drifts up to 20 feet deep. The agency won't be able to open the highway across the Snowy Range by its traditional opening date on Memorial Day weekend.

Some roads in South Dakota's Black Hills National Forest are closed.

A North Dakota park and golf course were flooded, and crews were sandbagging at a tourist town and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and a major state highway is closed in two spots.

In Colorado, forecasters said heavy rainfall and thunderstorms dumping 2 to 4 inches of rain were possible through Wednesday morning.


Ben Neary in Cheyenne, Wyo., contributed to this story.