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HELENA, Mont. – Crews and residents frustrated by a week of major flooding across Montana cleared debris from roadways and some muddied homes on Saturday, even as they braced for more heavy rainfall expected over the Memorial Day weekend.
A respite in weather that has brought as much as 8 inches of rainfall over a span of a few days to some areas had allowed waters to recede slightly in several flooded communities, giving emergency crews the chance to fix water-damaged roads, although they said some would not be repaired before the water is expected to rise again.
The break in the rain looked to be brief, with the National Weather Service predicting up to 3 inches of rainfall from Sunday to Monday. Meteorologist Keith Meier also warned that high temperatures and melting snowpack in the Rocky Mountains next week would likely swell rivers for even longer.
"Take a little time to breathe today, figure out what you need to do but don't let your guard down," said Cheri Kilby, Disaster and Emergency Coordinator for Fergus County.
Authorities have already started releasing massive volumes of water from overburdened reservoirs. The releases coupled with the floodwaters have been predicted to cause flooding downstream, possibly in the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
Near Bismark, N.D., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to increase releases over the coming weeks at Garrison Dam, about 75 miles upstream on the Missouri River. Plans also called for releasing water at four other Missouri River reservoirs.
The Missouri River in Bismark was slightly below flood stage of 16 feet on Saturday, but well out of its banks in some parts of the city and nearby Mandan, and officials are building levees to protect the city from a flood stage of 21 feet.
Residents in neighboring were busy hauling sandbags to flooded areas Saturday; city streets were heavy with trucks and trailers loaded with people and their possessions headed to higher ground.
City officials said about 3.5 million sandbags had been filled in the past week.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple also said Saturday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had expanded its federal emergency declaration to include seven state counties and the Standing Rock Reservation as they fight rising water on the Missouri River.
A state of disaster also was declared Friday on the Fort Berthold Reservation by Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall, who said flooding had damaged homes and other buildings, swamped farmland and caused highways to erode.
FEMA issued an emergency declaration in early April for 14 counties hit with flooding.
In Montana, Gov. Brian Schweitzer deployed Montana National Guard soldiers to the Crow Reservation, one of the hardest hit areas, a day after touring the area.
The guardsmen were setting up unarmed security checkpoints on the Crow Reservation Saturday afternoon to help with emergency response. Crow Tribe officials earlier in the week requested National Guard aid after heavy rainfall put much of the reservation under water and left residents stranded.
Crow Chairman Cedric Black Eagle said the tribal government helped pump water out of flooded basements and clear off roads so families could return and start to repair their homes.
It was possible people would have to leave the reservation again if water levels began to rise again, he said.
To the northwest, the small agricultural town of Roundup seemed to retain much of its flood water and the Musselshell River level was hardly declining, emergency officials said. Road closures have cut the town off from all directions but the north.
Director of Disaster and Emergency services for Musselshell County Jeff Gates said people are still stranded around the town. Gates said there is little emergency crews can do at this point but provide people with supplies they need and wait for water to go down.
Gates said that doesn't look to be likely for quite a while.
He is concerned about the town running out of freshwater and residents are being told to conserve as much as they can.
Businesses are having a hard time getting supplies and residents are mostly helpless to do anything about several feet of water on the southern side of town.
The businesses that have managed to stay open have seen quite a few customers, frustrated with nothing else to do but wait out the water.
Everett Reaves, owner of the Keg Bar in Roundup said a number of people are coming out to his bar.
"When things are down, people go to places like this to forget about it," he said.
Blaine Tull, who runs the Pioneer CafDe in Roundup with his wife, had a different take on the situation and the water conservation.
"Ain't no sense in getting frustrated with something you can't change," he said