VIDEO: Evacuation warnings widen to orders for Clark Fork River residents

Evacuation warnings turned into evacuation orders on Tuesday for several hundred residents living within reach of the Clark Fork River’s rapidly rising waters.

While forecasters said it was possible for the river to reach 13 feet this week – its highest level since 1975 – they now expect it to crest at 13.3 feet by Thursday, well into the major flood stage.

“We’re looking at some evacuation orders coming today,” said Brenda Bassett, spokesperson for the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office. “Our team is working to solidify those lines on the map, so when that happens, a RAVE alert will go out by 9-1-1 dispatch to those folks. Our deputies will also be going door to door to make contact with those folks.”

More than 230 homes in a low-lying area north of Third Street West were given evacuation warnings on Monday. Many of those homes already were inundated by the river’s muddy waters, which have swamped low-lying areas across the valley.

Bassett said other residents living in areas prone to flooding should begin making emergency preparations, as floodwaters will continue rising through the week.

“We really are pushing the need for self-evacuation,” Bassett said. “We have a limited number of folks and we’re trying to get to everyone. This is touch and go, so we’re asking that everyone to be responsible and evacuate themselves, because that window is closing.”

The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday established a mobile incident command center at 2520 S. Third Street W., and the American Red Cross opened an evacuation shelter in both Missoula and Seeley Lake.

Jess Jordan, the Clark Fork flood lead with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the 11 members of his team have kept busy inspecting area levees and coordinating with city and county officials on any pressing issues.

“Our flood exercise this year has turned into a flood response,” Jordan said. “It’s not necessarily uncommon, but it’s a little unusual to see it this early and at this level. We’re now in full flood response mode.”

A flood warning was also in effect for Seeley Lake and the Clearwater River. Minor flooding was reported along Placid Lake Road south of Seeley Lake, and in several locations around the community, including Boy Scout Road and Morrel Creek.

A flood warning was also posted for the Bitterroot and Blackfoot rivers.