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Jefferson Acres house surrounded by Jefferson River ice.

Safety in Sandbags
By Tim Trainor of The Montana Standard, 02/23/2011

      As Richard Meehan watched the Jefferson River from his front porch Sunday, he couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right.

      "It started with little ice cubes then a few hours later they were big ice cubes and then it became solid ice and (the water) came up," he said.

      He called 911 once it became clear that an ice jam had formed just a few feet from Jefferson Acres subdivision, located several miles south of Silver Star. In the more than 24 hours since, the jam has continued to expand and is endangering more than a dozen homes.

      Madison County Department of Emergency Services has set up a mobile command unit at the site.

"We're nervous about these next three days," said Steve DiGiovanna, deputy director of emergency services. "We don't know what's going to happen."

      At least 500 yards of undulating snow and ice are clogging the Jefferson's original channel, forcing the water into the nearby fields and the cluster of homes.

      Though he is not worried about his property, which is protected by a small berm, some of Meehan's neighbors have sandbagged their homes and another has already evacuated.

      A number of intersecting roads in the subdivision are closed due to overflowing water and ice.

      DiGiovanna and emergency director Chris Mumme said their main objective is to make sure they can get emergency services to homeowners if necessary.

      They are also using a county road grader and backhoe to build a 2-foot to 3-foot ice berm that will try to hold back water expected to enter the area in the next few days. They also brought in more than 600 sandbags.

      Other than that, it's a waiting game.

Used with permission of the Montana Standard

Jefferson River ice near Jefferson Acres house, MT.

Ice jams Jefferson River
By Tim Trainor of The Montana Standard, 02/22/2011

      An ice jam has caused flooding on the Jefferson River between Silver Star and Twin Bridges, and rising water is endangering more than a dozen homes.

      The river as of Monday had flooded nearly 30 acres near the Jefferson Acres subdivision, located just off Highway 41 south of Silver Star. More than 30 houses are in the area.

      Steve DiGiovanna of Madison County Disaster and Emergency Services said if the water does not channel past the jam soon, serious flooding issues are on the horizon.

      "We are concerned," he told The Montana Standard on Monday. "If the water can't find its way through by tomorrow, it's just going to continue to rise."

DiGiovanna and other staff from Madison County DES were dispatched to the site Sunday evening and returned Monday at daybreak to better assess the situation.

      They found one home at Loch Level and Dean Road with water up to its garage and a crawl space in danger of flooding.

      But a more pressing concern may be another 10 homes that have been cut off from vehicular access due to an irrigation ditch that is transporting some of the overflowing water in from behind.

      A backhoe is on site, trying to clean the ditch so water can escape downstream instead of circling around toward the homes. River water is spreading from the west, said DiGiovanna, and the irrigation ditch is bringing more water from the east.

      DiGiovanna said those inside the homes have not been evacuated and are not in immediate danger.       "Our biggest concern is being unable to get emergency services to them if they need it," he said. "We'll let them stay in their homes as long as they aren't in imminent danger."

      The situation is expected to get worse before it gets better, however. Temperatures for the next week are not projected to get above freezing, and mercury might dip below zero on Thursday. If that turns out to be the case, the jam won't break anytime soon.

      Until it does, emergency crews don't have many options. Getting out into the river is extremely dangerous, and trying to manually break the jam could cause more problems downstream. DiGiovanna said all they can do is make sure people are safe, try to limit property damage, and hope for warm weather and that the water finds its way through.

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

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