by Amy Beth Hanson
Helena, Mont. ( Associated Press) — A torrent of rain coupled with rapidly melting snowpack caused a deluge of flooding that forced the evacuation of parts of Yellowstone National Park, cut off power and forced Yellowstone officials to close all admissions. The gates were forced to close indefinitely, as the summer tourist season was progressing.
While many homes and other structures were destroyed, there were no immediate reports of injuries. Yellowstone officials said they were assessing the damage caused by the storm, which washed away bridges, caused landslides and isolated small towns, forcing people to evacuate by boat and helicopter.
It is not clear how many visitors are trapped or forced to leave the park and how many residents have been rescued and evacuated outside the park.
Some of the worst damage occurred in the northern part of the park and the entrance communities of Yellowstone in southern Montana. Photos from the National Park Service of North Yellowstone churning out floodwaters from the Gardner and Lamar Rivers cut a slide, washed out bridges and roads.
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. Cook City was also gutted by floodwaters and evacuations were issued for residents in Livingston.
Officials in Park County, which includes those cities, said on Facebook Monday evening that widespread flooding across the county also made drinking water unsafe in many areas. Evacuation and rescue operations were on and officials urged the people living at the safe place to stay overnight.
The Montana National Guard said on Monday it sent two helicopters to southern Montana to help with the evacuation.
Cory Motis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana, said rain is not in the immediate forecast, and cooler temperatures will reduce snowfall in the coming days.
“This is a flood we’ve never seen before in our lifetime,” Motis said.
In a cabin at Gardiner, Parker Manning of Terra Haute, Indiana, views the rising waters and riverbanks in the floodwaters of the Yellowstone River just 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 (4.2 meters) on Monday, higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) 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 (40 kilometers) northeast, Kristen Apodaka wiped 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.”
On Monday, Yellowstone officials evacuated the northern part of the park, where roads may remain impassable, Park Superintendent Cam Sholey said in a statement.
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.
The rains affected during the high tourist season. 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.
Yellowstone received 2.5 inches (6 cm) of rain on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. According to the National Weather Service, Beartooth Mountain has risen to 4 inches (10 cm) northeast of Yellowstone.
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 were 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, crews from California to New Mexico are battling 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. .
Associated Press writers Thomas Peppert in Denver, Mead Gruver in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed to this report.