Helena, Mont. – Massive floodwaters devastated Yellowstone National Park and surrounding communities on Monday, washed away roads and bridges, cut power, and forced visitors to evacuate parts of the iconic park at the height of the summer tourist season forced to do.
All entrances to Yellowstone were closed due to the deluge caused by heavy rain and melting snow, while park officials pulled tourists out of the worst-hit areas.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, although dozens of stranded campers in south-central Montana had to be rescued by the fleet. Officials also said they would assess potential “damage to homes and structures” in Montana’s Stillwater County.
Elsewhere, some of the worst damage occurred in the park’s entrance communities in the northern part of Yellowstone and southern Montana. Photos from the National Park Service of North Yellowstone showed a landslide, a bridge over a creek washed out, and roads badly cut by churning out floodwaters from the Gardner and Lamar Rivers.
The flood cut off road access to Gardiner, Montana, a city of about 900 people near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Gardner Rivers, just outside Yellowstone’s busy northern entrance.
In a cabin at Gardiner, visitor Parker Manning of Terra Haute, Indiana, got a close-up view of the water rising up and the river bank closing in on the raging Yellowstone River floodwaters outside his door.
“We started seeing whole trees floating in the river, debris,” Manning told the Associated Press. “Saw a crazy single Kecker coming down, which was kind of crazy.”
According to the National Weather Service, the Yellowstone River in Corwin Springs stood at 13.88 feet on Monday, higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet set in 1918.
Floodwaters submerged a street in Red Lodge, a Montana town of 2,100, which is a popular jumping-off point for a scenic, winding route in the Yellowstone high country. As The Billings Gazette reports, in Joliet, twenty-five miles to the northeast, Kristen Apodaka wiped away tears as she stood across the street from a washed-out bridge.
The log cabin that belonged to her grandmother, who died in March, was flooded, as was the park where Apodaka’s husband had proposed.
“I am the sixth generation. This is our house,” she said. “The bridge I literally ran yesterday. My mother left it at 3 a.m. before washing it.”
Park Superintendent Cam Sholey said in a statement that Yellowstone officials are evacuating the northern part of the park, where roads may remain impassable for a long time.
But the flooding also affected the rest of the park, with park officials warning of yet high flooding and potential problems with water supply and wastewater systems in developed areas.
“We will not know the timing of the park’s reopening until the floodwaters subside and we are able to assess the damage throughout the park,” Sholey said in the statement.
Officials said the gates of the park would remain closed at least until Wednesday. It was not clear how many visitors have been forced to leave the park.
As the summer tourist season was at its peak, the rains settled. June, at the start of an annual wave of more than 3 million visitors that doesn’t end until fall, is one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.
The remnants of winter – in the form of snow still melting and escaping from the mountains – made for an especially bad time for heavy rains.
Yellowstone received 2.5 inches of rain on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. According to the National Weather Service, Beartooth Mountain northeast of Yellowstone has risen to 4 inches.
“It’s raining a lot, but if we didn’t have that much snow, a flood wouldn’t have been like that,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Cory Motis in Billings, Montana. “It’s a flood we’ve never seen before in our lifetime.”
Motis said rain is likely to reduce, while cooler temperatures will reduce snowfall in the coming days.
In south-central Montana, a flood on the Stillwater River trapped 68 people at a campground. Employees with Stillwater County Emergency Services agencies and Stillwater Mine rescue people by raft from Woodbine Campground on Monday. Some roads in the area have been closed due to the floods and residents have been evacuated.
“We will assess the damage to homes and structures when the water is low,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
The floods occurred when other parts of the US burned in hot and dry weather. More than 100 million Americans were being warned to stay indoors as a heat wave settles in states stretching from parts of the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and the Carolinas in the east.
Elsewhere in the West, workers from California to New Mexico battled wildfires in hot, dry, and windy weather.
Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme events such as hurricanes, droughts, floods and wildfires, although without extensive study single weather events usually cannot be directly linked to climate change. .