HELENA, Mont. — Runoff from a winter that approached or exceeded record snowfall across much of Montana is washing out roads, flooding fields and spilling rivers and streams over their banks much of the northern part of the state.
The spring runoff and recent rain has caused the National Weather Service to issue flood warnings and advisories and city and county leaders are warning residents to prepare for the rising waters. The mayor of Harlem, a town of 800 people near the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, ordered the evacuation of several homes threatened by water overflowing from a nearby creek.
"Right now, there's water totally around some of the homes," said Mayor K.M. Hansen. "I just wanted people to have the opportunity to get out while they can."
Gov. Steve Bullock declared a flooding emergency Wednesday in seven counties, the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and the town of Chester. The declaration will allow the use of state government services and equipment, and let the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers help protect infrastructure.
"We are doing everything necessary at the state level to protect health and safety, and to preserve lives, property, and resources," Bullock said in a statement.
Chinook Mayor Keith Hanson told residents Tuesday night to prepare for major flooding in and around that city of about 1,200 residents. Commissioners in Chinook's Blaine County and neighboring Hill County have issued their own disaster declarations with multiple roads washed out and farmland covered by water.
Blaine County emergency officials said in a Facebook post that residents should be ready to evacuate on short notice and that they should move livestock immediately.
Larry Johnson, a 66-year-old farmer from the tiny community of Kremlin, said the roads are so damaged by floodwaters that it may take years to fix them. He and other farmers are concerned all the water will delay spring planting of wheat in May, he said.
"I've never seen anything approach this in my lifetime," Johnson said.
The flooding isn't likely to go away anytime soon. Swollen tributaries are gushing into the Milk River, which is expected to be in flood stage in most locations until the beginning of May, weather service forecasters said.
The Milk River was flooding in the town of Dodson and in the community of Tampico and was expected to flood on Wednesday downstream near the town of Saco and the city of Glasgow.
The Montana Department of Transportation reported that water covered several stretches of U.S. Highway 2, forcing drivers to slow down.
Near the city of Havre, the Big Sandy Creek has crested but major flooding was still expected on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Some residents saw an opportunity to explore their changed landscape in a different way.
"It's a great time, if you can, to break out a canoe or kayak and take advantage for a couple of days," Josh Danreuther told KULR-TV .