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Little Missouri River nears 1947 record

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Little Missouri River nears 1947 record
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

MEDORA -- So close to a record, but county officials and residents were happy to say the Little Missouri River did not outdo itself. The floodwater that has overwhelmed the community the past few days is declining.


The National Weather Service forecasted the river to rise to 20.60 feet Wednesday morning, which would have surpassed the 1947 record of 20.50, but the water crested just shy of that at 20.48 feet and has been declining since.

Mayor Doug Ellison has kept a keen eye on the river and is hopeful the worst is behind.

"Everyone was holding their breath and now they can breathe a little easier," he said. "The flood waters are expected to recede as early as tonight (Wednesday) and the river should be returning to its banks."

Billings County Emergency Manager Pat Rummel said it was a relief to see the water recede, but the river could still cause problems.

"We are not in the clear until the water dips below flood stage," he said. "The town right now is OK but everything else will be critical."

The town was not inundated, but scattered cases of rural homes taking on water have been reported, Rummel said. The Medora Campground and Cottonwood Campground in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are submerged and the Bully Pulpit Golf Course will remain unopened until late June.

Four-foot earth dikes shore up the western edge of town to protect the community, historical sites and businesses up to 23 feet, even though the water likely will not reach that level.

"We were preparing for the worst," Rummel said. "The cooperation between agencies has been remarkable."

Members from the Medora Foundation, National Park Service, Forest Service, Stark County Emergency Management and Billings County Road Crews have been involved in the emergency response, Rummel said, adding that more than 150 community volunteers pitched in to fill and place sandbags.

Resident Bea Wall has been watching the work from the convenience store next to the river and was astounded how quickly the dikes were constructed.

"There was an atmosphere of everyone working together," she said. "It was a cooperative effort at its finest."

Wall has been unable to get to her house southeast of Medora due to the water level and has been staying with a friend for the past few days.

"There is still a feeling of uncertainty," she said. "It gives me a good feeling that it is on the way down."

As pump trucks blasted wastewater back over the berm, Rummel was concerned about rain over the next few days.

"Now that the dikes are in place, there is no drainage out," he said. Rummel said in the case of rain, water would flow to one site in town where it would have to be pumped out.

Medora Foundation Chief Operating Officer John Motley looked over the submerged Medora Campground and Chimney Park and said recovering the tourist attractions is completely dependent on nature.

"We can just play the waiting game," he said. "When the water declines, we will assess what needs to be done from a work standpoint."

Motley said he felt lucky many of the summer employees had already moved into the area and were able to help in the relief effort.

The Foundation has been affected by the loss of the campground and golf course, but Motley was confident they would be operational for the bulk of the tourist season.

"It has been a very odd year here and around the nation," he said. "We will probably see later visitation."

Despite the idea of pressing floodwater and late vacationers, Medora Area Convention and Visitor Bureau CEO Leona Odermann was excited to host area guests over the Memorial Day weekend.

"Medora will not shut down," she said. "The activities will carry on as usual."

With few exceptions, all the businesses will be fully operational, Odermann said in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

The South and North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National park are open, but campgrounds will be closed until floodwaters recede.

The eastbound Interstate exit 24 is closed and will be opened Tuesday, weather permitting. Sully Creek State Park is closed.

Bowman and Slope County Emergency Services released that the bridge at Marmarth on Highway 12 is open.