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The Daily Missoulian of 100 years ago fairly breathed a sigh of relief.

"Flood Waters Fall Fast And Old Sol Reigns Again," trumpeted one headline in the Monday, June 8, edition.

"Dam Is Solid As A Rock," blared another.

After the first full day of sunshine in weeks, Missoula's "flood-bound and rain-soaked people" awakened to the realization that the worst of the high-water destruction was over.

Water runs and water flows, but there has never been a flood like that one.

For two June days, the Missoula (now Clark Fork) River and its feeder streams raged Pacific-ward, flushing bridges and homes, telegraph poles and railroads along with them.

"Excluding the great glacial floods, it remains the flood of record for Missoula," said Todd Klietz, Missoula's floodplain administrator. "We haven't had anything close to it since."

Remarkably, no one died in the Flood of '08, at least on this side of the mountains. More than a dozen deaths were attributed to high waters east of the divide.

And Montana wasn't alone.

They still talk in Texas about May 26, 1908, when the Trinity River rose to new heights to dunk Dallas.

Enid, Okla., and uncounted towns in Georgia, Tennessee, and the Missouri and Mississippi River valleys found themselves afloat. Moscow, Russia, regards its April flood of 1908 as the babushka of all inundations.

At its peak on June 6, the Missoula River roared through town at an estimated rate of 48,000 cubic feet per second. Next on the list in the annals of river flow is the measly 32,300 cubic feet per second on June 21, 1975.

The high-water mark so far this spring? 16,800 cfs on May 21.

Today the Clark Fork skips merrily by at 14,000 cfs. Picture that, times 3 1/2, and you've got 1908.

Will we ever see such a ravaging river again?

"Sure," Klietz said promptly.

The 48,000 cfs fell midway between the standards for 100-year and 500-year floods in Missoula: 42,500 and 56,000 cfs, respectively.

So maybe we've got another century to wait. Maybe we don't.

"My job's kind of like Chicken Little," said Klietz. "I go, 'The floods are coming, the floods are coming.' Of course, you never know when they're going to get here."

There are two levees in the city limits of Missoula. Both were built in the 1960s and certified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They protect the north side of the river, from below Rattlesnake Creek to Orange Street, and from the California Street footbridge to Russell Street.

A third levee in the Orchard Homes area was installed on the south bank after the floods of 1948. It's certified by the county, but not by the Army Corps.

There's some levee and flood-control work on the south side of the river around McCormick Park, explained Klietz, but it hasn't been maintained or certified.

"The only certified levees are on the north side of the river," he said. Come the next 100-year flood, McCormick Park and points downstream can be expected to flood. The same is true with the lower ground on Rattlesnake Creek.

Klietz studies photos and maps from 1908 and sees danger today. For one thing, the river has been bound into a narrower package. Where Caras Park stands today, the main river channel ran 100 years ago. The Wilma Building was later constructed in the channel bed.

Cregg Lane runs along the south boundary of McCormick Park. In 1908 it was a secondary river channel.

Klietz said he doesn't like to talk about it, but floodplain officials say there are two kinds of levees: "Levees that haven't failed today and levees that are going to fail some day."

He pointed at New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina as a recent example of the truism.

"All those levees were certified by the Corps, as are ours," he said.

His respect for what happened in 1908 has led Klietz to organize a commemoration of the flood and a flood awareness day on June 21 - a little later than he would have liked.

It'll be in conjunction with the Saturday Clark Fork Market by Caras Park.

It's not all mapped out yet, but Klietz said there'll be booths with historic photos and exhibits, games and readings from the flood.

"With the '08 flood taking out the Higgins bridge, I wanted to see if I could get the bridge closed for a couple of hours but that didn't quite work out," Klietz said.

He'll have to leave that to the river.

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at kbriggeman@missoulian.com

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