Sen. Tester visits Red Cross shelter

Billings Gazette

by Chelsea Krotzer

Aloysius and Ruby Big Hair evacuated their home between Crow Agency and Garryowen on Saturday as floodwaters rose past their comfort level.

“I could see the pickup tires were halfway covered with water,” Ruby said at the Montana Red Cross Shelter at Montana State University Billings. “I packed and we took off.”

They wouldn’t have made it very far, had they not been stopped by a neighbor. The road was covered in water too deep for their pickup to safely traverse.

Their only option was to travel by boat.

“I’m 58 years old and it was my first time in a boat,” Ruby said. “I was scared to get in.”

The couple told their story to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., during his visit to the shelter Monday morning. Tester spoke with several volunteers and heard the stories of flood victims as they ate a breakfast provided by the Salvation Army.

“I think on Memorial Day, when we give thanks to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, to see folks once again come together and care for one another, to hear all of the stories of houses under water, roofs caving in and roads washed out, it’s important as we move forward and find out what the needs are,” Tester said.

Tester said representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are assessing damage in the state. It is still unknown if federal funding will be available.

“We are going to be working to make sure we get people back in their homes and federal infrastructures are rebuilt,” Tester said. “Money is hard to come by, but it’s important for the economy to get infrastructure back in place.”

Representatives from the Montana Red Cross gave Tester a tour of the facility. About 220 flood victims stayed at the shelter on Sunday night.

Volunteers with the Salvation Army are busy making sure those shelter victims are well fed. Four volunteers were there on Monday morning handing out meals from their mobile unit. The volunteers have brought breakfast, lunch and dinner since Friday.

The vehicle, equipped with freezers, refrigerators, convection ovens and coffee makers, gives them the ability to travel to rural areas and cook meals on site.

The meals passed out on Sunday were prepared at the Salvation Army office on Sixth Avenue North. About 40 of the Salvation Army’s volunteers are working to help those out of their homes.

“We are making sure these evacuees are being fed,” said Bo Sells, Salvation Army representative. “We are going to be available for whatever they need.”