Historically speaking, the flooding this spring was not the worst Missoula has ever seen. It is, however, the worst anyone in living memory has ever known. In 1908, the Clark Fork River rose to 17.4 feet and, among other things, swept one of Missoula’s central bridges towards the Pacific Ocean. This year, the Clark Fork peaked at 14.3 feet and, while all of the city’s bridges remain intact, the effects of the flooding were felt throughout the floodplains.
When the river transitioned from its usual full to bursting in May, Missoula called for action and the response was overwhelming. Several companies donated sand and empty bags. Thousands of people volunteered to fill them. The Facebook page Missoula Flood Support popped up overnight and, after scanning locations which needed help one evening, my husband and I joined a long line of volunteers at Mallard Way. There, we carried and stacked sandbags for over three hours - building a retaining wall which eventually saved several homes from the rising swell of the river.
I was astonished to see the power of social media at work as pallets of sandbags and truckloads of volunteers kept coming. I was asked several times who the owners of the houses were, but nobody seemed to know. It didn’t matter. We hadn’t shown up to help neighbors of friends, we had shown up to help fellow Missoulians fight back against a rush of nature. By the end of the evening, our numbers had grown from 50 to almost 200. We had built two retaining walls: one at the primary property and one next door. We left with sore muscles, mud in our shoes, and the pride of a job well done.