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Monarch-area residents grapple with aftermath of damaging winter storm

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Posted at 11:43 AM, May 29, 2024

GREAT FALLS — Just two weeks ago, the serene landscape of Monarch was dramatically altered when a fierce snow and windstorm, filled with microbursts, wreaked havoc.

Monarch-area residents grapple with aftermath of damaging winter storm

Cascade County Director of Emergency Management Joey Zahara told MTN News several days after the storm: "The storm brought four feet of wet, heavy snow in just a few hours, crippling the power infrastructure. Monarch and Neihart were without power for 72 hours. Trees landed on houses, blocked roads, and created widespread chaos," Zahara explained.

The storm left behind a trail of destruction, demolishing homes and felling thousands of trees, prompting concerns about immediate and long-term impacts on both the community and the local economy.

Destruction and Immediate Concerns

The storm’s intensity caught many by surprise. Katie Boedecker, owner of nearby Showdown Montana ski area, has concerns about the extensive damage: “We're just very concerned about what's going to happen here. I mean, I'm just very concerned about the fuel management of what's happening [with the trees] behind us.”

Homeowner Todd Carmichael described the devastation in detail: “We've got just a lot of lodgepole pine, quaking aspen, just tree tops that were broke out. We've had whole trees that are laying on their side.”

Fire Hazards Loom Large

The downed trees, while a visible reminder of the storm’s power, also pose a significant fire risk.

Tim Sheehy, owner of Little Belt Cattle Company, warned of the potential dangers: “In just a few months, especially after a long, hot, dry summer, which this summer is supposed to be, this is going to be combustible fuel for a forest fire. And this will make access in the forest a lot harder. And this is going to make the fire danger a lot higher for the locals who live here.”

Impact on Residents and the Economy

The destruction has not been uniform across the area, with some regions experiencing more severe damage than others.

Sheehy noted the stark differences: “We're neighbors right over the hill in Martinsdale, so it's important to know what's going on here. It's amazing how different the storm treated the east side of the range. You can definitely see, you know, mountain weather, just how it affects things differently. We only got a couple of inches of rain compared to what clearly was a devastating microburst here.”

Residents are not just facing physical damage to their properties but also potential economic fallout. Boedecker highlighted the challenges faced by the elderly and those without resources:

“A lot of people have been able to get out and address how this impacted their property, their private property. But we do have some older folks in the area that don't have the resources or the means to deal with it.”

Tourism, a critical component of the local economy, is also under threat.

Sheehy elaborated on the broader implications: “You've got hundreds of residents living here and of course, that doesn't even count the tourism piece of that. The Little Belts depend on summer tourism a lot. The hiking, the hunting, the fishing, especially going into the fall hunting season. And, you know, if they can't get through the forest physically, you know, they're not going to come here.”

Calls for Greater Support

Amidst the wreckage, some residents feel abandoned and disconnected from essential support services.

Luke, a local resident, pointed out the communication breakdown: “People [in the government] say, well, we posted on Facebook, but there are people up here who didn't have power for over a week and were stuck in their houses for over a week with no communication, with no ability to communicate.”

Carmichael echoed these sentiments, noting the lack of organized assistance: “Really haven't heard anything from anybody other than just a few words of mouth. You know, and the fact that we just kind of found out that they've got this the old rock quarry here open for debris and stuff, you know, that's good. I hope they keep it open for a while because it's going to be a while before I can get everything kind of cleared off. Any other support, we really haven't heard of anything being available yet.”

As Monarch’s residents continue to navigate the aftermath of the storm, the need for comprehensive support and effective communication remains critical. The community’s resilience will be tested in the coming months as they work to clear the debris, mitigate fire risks, and rebuild both their lives and their local economy.


MAY 17, 2024: