HELENA — The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the Helena area just before 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 3, 2022.
A fast-moving storm sent a torrent of water down North Last Chance Gulch and other streets in and around downtown Helena.
Damage was rampant throughout the downtown area. Businesses reported water damage, and the storm took out trees and tree limbs around the city.
The flood left mud, gravel, and dirt in many areas.
Dave Burningham, owner of Golden Girls Antique Mall, had minimal damage to the shop but spent much of morning on the 4th of July shoveling debris out of his parking lot.
"I'm gonna say 700 pounds so far and I've still got a couple more to go,” says Burningham.
Just up the street at Aunt Bonnie’s Books, owners Lauren and Matt Thomson also avoided serious damage to their store.
“Yeah, there seems to be a little bit of water in front of the front door here but none of the books are wet, none of the carpet is really wet, so very fortunate,” says Lauren Thomson.
But just across the street, Sage and Oats shop co-owner Major Robinson, and building co-owner Matt Bitz say that the flooding was much more extensive.
“And I noticed there was a bunch of hail that had collected in the office and in the bathroom which was surprising 'cause there was no leaks on the roof or anything. But apparently after looking at it closer, that it had come up through the toilet and the pressure had just forced all of the hail and water right up onto the floor,” says Robinson.
Despite the water, Bitz says that the damage to the building and businesses seems limited. He tells MTN that he will have restoration and flooring experts in the building this week.
“It’d be a huge bummer to see people dragging wet, you know, inventory out of their store. So, we can dry out floors, we can dry out basements, those sorts of things. But it's nice to see that people’s stock hasn't been impacted...At the moment counting ourselves fortunate based on the amount of water we saw coming down the street last night, counting ourselves, I think a little bit fortunate that the damage isn't any worse than it is,” says Bitz.
Bitz says that these business owners are resilient folk. Additionally, Robinson says that he plans to have the shop back open on Tuesday, July 5th.
“I have no doubt in my mind that will get things put back to rights and doors will be open and you know folks will be getting back to the summer trade,” says Bitz.
The Helena Area Emergency Relief Fund has been created by the Helena Area Community Foundation in partnership with the United Way of the Lewis & Clark area; click here if you would like to donate.
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The YWCA's basement was almost completely covered in nearly two inches of water. YWCA director Jenifer Gursky said the flood was something that completely caught her, the staff, and residents off guard, and it will likely have lasting impacts.
"Absolutely flat-footed for an event like this at the [YWCA]," said Gursky. "I was at my house and we're watching sheets of hail come in. Get a call and you know, the 'Y' is flooding and I'm like, 'Okay, how bad,' and then I got the initial picture, which showed, you know, the main group therapy room that we use downstairs, all of it, already flooded."
Gursky reached out to people asking for help to get the water out as quickly as they could, and the response was staggering but, unfortunately, their work was just beginning.
"I put out a call to all staff, anybody with a shop vac, please meet at the 'Y'. We had about 14 people show up, seven shop vacs, and about 25 fans. We worked in that, that group therapy space that we refer to as the dance studio because it has a hardwood floor, about two hours. And then it dawned on us that we should probably go look in the other rooms," said Gursky. "All of it was — had standing water in it."
Gursky noted that nobody lives in the basement full-time but, during the summer months, residents and their families are welcome to move their beds down there because it is significantly cooler, something that will likely not be able to happen this summer. The damage caused by the water will also significantly impact the services the non-profit will be able to provide, including providing donations to women who graduate from the program.
"We have a 24-bed facility and so mattresses as women and kiddos move out. We lost about 25 twin mattresses and about 30 toddler beds and crib mattresses, just purely from where they're stored. We do group therapies downstairs," said Gursky. "Until all of the damage is mitigated, there are certain services that we're not going to be able to do. We're going to have to find some alternative spaces."
While the YWCA typically welcomes donations of all sorts, Gursky is asking anyone who wants to help to do so financially, because they are currently unable to house tangible donations like furniture and dish sets because of the damage. While staff and volunteers were cleaning up, YWCA staff put up an Instagram post asking for help and Gursky says the response was immediate.
"We didn't even think to put the call out last night until half the cleanup was done. And I looked at our development director and I said, 'I think we're gonna have to ask for help,' and it was just within minutes we started seeing donations come in," said Gursky.
On Monday, the YWCA put out a request on Facebook asking anyone who wants to help with cleanup is welcome to join them at their facility on Park Avenue from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
Though the full extent of the damage is unknown at the time MTN conducted the interview for this story, Gursky noted that everyone at the YWCA is grateful to have such a caring community.
"People just show up, and we — we seriously couldn't do what we do, without this community."