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After a flood devastated the town of Fromberg, residents unsure when — and if — they can return

A woman stands in front of her garage surrounded with debris
Amaya Rodriguez
Yellowstone Public Radio
Karen Poore on the property her mobile home sits on

An unexpected flood in mid-June washed out bridges, utility lines and houses across south-central Montana. The storm also totaled a stretch of rental homes in the small town of Fromberg.

In a house in Fromberg, in a mobile home park not far from the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River, Corey Smith is standing on an island of odds and ends in the middle of a water-swamped basement. The walls are covered with black mold.

Smith basement 3_Kayla.JPG
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
Corey Smith in the basement of a house he's helping repair after June's flood

“It’s hard to breathe in here," he says. "Just the taste you get in your mouth. The smell you get.

"It starts to irritate you after a while."

Smith is working for mobile home park's property owner, Jackson Family Trust, to clean up the grounds and buildings. Phone calls YPR made to a number associated with the property manager were not returned.

This block, just east of the railroad tracks that cut through Fromberg, includes a mix of mobile homes and houses like this one.

“There’s six inches of water in here again,” Smith says. “And now I’ve got to pump it out again because I’ve got to keep pumping and pumping and pumping until no more water comes back.”

Fromberg, a town of 400 people, is a roughly 40-minute drive northeast from Red Lodge, a popular tourist center that also suffered flood damage.

Compared to neighboring communities in Carbon County, Fromberg has the greatest percentage of property at risk in the floodplain according to the county’s 2013 Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan. Last month's flooding left some residents in this neighborhood scrambling to figure out next steps. Some say the might return. Others say they won't be able to at all.

On a recent hot day, the air is full of newly hatched mosquitoes, and Tracy Moseley’s door is wide open, with a fan circulating air inside.

In the kitchen, she points out the waterline of mud inside her fridge. Moseley’s basement is flooded, but she says she hasn’t seen any mold.

Moseley_Amaya .JPG
Amaya Rodriguez
Yellowstone Public Radio
Tracy Moseley at her home in Fromberg

“That’s why we’ve been doing this right here, the dehumidifiers and stuff," she says. "When they come in, they’re going to gut it all out, and they’ll spray it for mold and then they’ll go ahead and start rebuilding.”

Moseley is a bartender in the nearby town of Bridger and is living with her mother right now. She says she’ll move back in once her house is cleaned, but she’s not sure when that might be.

“Things could change at any time,” she said. “You never know, ya know? They could run into problems here and I’ll have to find something before coming back.

"I really don’t know. I really don’t know.”

A few minutes’ walk away, Karen Poore says she probably won’t have a home to return to. This mobile unit – like others in this park – likely can’t be salvaged. Poore says the flood coated the bedrooms in mud, totaled her son’s car and washed out her storage space.

“Anything that you’ve had for years, you’ve had to throw out and leave,” she says.

A preliminary survey last month estimated the floods destroyed or severely damaged more than 100 homes in south-central Montana.

Neither Poore nor Moseley has flood insurance. Individual financial assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency is available to people without insurance in Carbon, Park, Stillwater and Yellowstone Counties. Applications are due Aug. 29.

Poore says for now, she and her son are living out of their camper.

“But it’s finding places to park it, you see. That’s the trouble is finding now somewhere to live,” she says. “Because everybody else - we’re in the same boat.

"Where do we live? ‘Cause we don’t know where to go.”

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.