Missoula City Council members thank hundreds of volunteers aiding flood response

Clark Fork River levels are predicted to reach historic levels again by Friday, with significant rains in the forecast beginning Wednesday afternoon and evening. (David Reese/Missoula Current)

Missoula City Council members on Monday thanked the hundreds and hundreds of local businesses and volunteers who have helped flood victims by filling sandbags, loaning equipment, providing care packages, and offering shelter and sustenance.

But they warned that the Clark Fork River remains high and will again return to historic levels before the runoff season ends, and that volunteers are still needed at sandbag-filling stations.

Evacuation orders and warnings remain in effect for thousands of Missoula residents, and officials have warned that flooding could continue into June.

“I know we are not out of the woods with the flooding on the Clark Fork yet,” said Councilwoman Julie Merritt, who helped organize a weekend effort to collect necessities for families displaced by the flooding. “But I was with some of the folks who were working on this issue over the weekend, and I just wanted to give my thanks to all of the people who have had such an amazing response.

“Dozens and dozens of local businesses have donated their time their equipment. Lots of goods and services that have gone out, as well as offers pouring in from everywhere. The feeding. The folks that have been out at the sandbagging sites for days and days and days. Thanks to everybody for all their hard work.”

The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office estimated that 1,000 volunteers helped fill sandbags for the affected neighborhoods over the weekend. That help is still needed, Merritt said Monday.

Sandbags and dirt are in need of pairing at the East Missoula Fire Station and at a site established at Fort Missoula.

“We are going to have more water later this week,” Merritt said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”

The National Weather Service in Missoula is forecasting widespread showers and thunderstorms on Wednesday and Thursday, again sending river levels into the major flood stage. Many Missoula neighborhoods remain under water and uninhabitable.

Late Monday, incident managers posted this update to the forecast:

“The Clark Fork River above Missoula will continue to decrease slightly within the moderate flood state until Wednesday/Thursday, when it is predicted to rise to major flooding. Due to rising temperatures, water levels are expected to rise back into major flood stage and crest again sometime Friday evening or Saturday morning, at or above levels experienced last week.”

Councilwoman Stacie Anderson thanked the city’s fire chief, Jeff Brandt, who is the incident commander for the multi-agency flood response team. And she reminded residents that many months of planning and preparation make such a coordinated, smooth response possible.

“There are people who prepare for these types of situations and have thorough, thought-out plans ready to go,” she said. “It takes a lot of work and preparation behind the scenes. I want to acknowledge all of that hard work and to thank them for that.”

Councilwoman Jesse Ramos added his thanks for the first-responders and volunteers “and all the work they’ve done.” He also thanked Missoula Mayor John Engen “for answering all my questions” on the flooding.

Council members reminded local residents that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has closed the Clark Fork River to all recreation, from Reserve Street Bridge in Missoula to Kona Bridge, due to dangers caused by downed power lines in the river and high-water levels full of hazardous debris.

Incident commanders recommended the closure for public safety, after flood waters tipped power poles into the Clark Fork on Sunday. FWP says the closure will remain while power lines and other river debris are creating unsafe conditions. The closure applies to all water-based recreation, including but not limited to: wading, swimming, fishing, floating, boating.