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Sandbags stacked along Wyoming’s ice jammed Bighorn River

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) Wyoming National Guard members, firefighters and anxious residents stacked sandbags Monday along the Bighorn River after it jumped its banks over the weekend and forced the evacuation of more than 100 homes and businesses. The river remained above flood level even though it receded about 3 feet from its weekend peak in the small north central Wyoming city of Worland. Officials downstream in neighboring Big Horn County were preparing for the arrival of rising water.

No injuries were reported, but some homes were damaged by water, said officials who could not immediately provide more details. The flooding began over the weekend when warm temperatures melted heavy snow that had accumulated in recent months. Ice jams caused the water to back up.

“It was a bad combination frozen ground and frozen river channels and that water has got to go somewhere,” said Al Ross, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Flooding from snowmelt does not normally start until March or April, and Ross couldn’t recall it happening in mid-February in the last two decades.

The river rose nearly 5 feet above flood stage over the weekend before receding, Ross said. Ice jams on the Bighorn River are unpredictable and shifting, said Kami Neighbors, a Washakie County government spokeswoman.

“We’re just waiting for it to warm up and the ice to break up,” Neighbors said. “It could be days still.”

Some evacuated homeowners were allowed to retrieve personal belongings Monday if water had receded from their homes, said Kelly Ruiz, a spokeswoman with Wyoming’s Homeland Security Office. While the situation was stabilizing in Worland, concerns mounted in the downstream communities of Greybull and Manderson in Big Horn County, Ruiz said.

About 70 National Guard troops were sent to the Worland area over the weekend to help with sandbagging. An additional 20 soldiers and airmen were being sent to Worland on Tuesday, according to guard spokeswoman Deidre Forster. A dozen firefighters who normally fight summer forest fires also were sent to Big Horn County. Gov. Matt Mead declared a state of emergency last Friday to deal with the flooding and other weather-related issues around the state. Flooding occurred last week in central Fremont County and storms knocked out power in parts of Teton County in northwest Wyoming.

Wyoming Department of Transportation inspectors were checking and monitoring bridges where flooding and ice jams happened to make sure the bridges had not been structurally damaged.

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