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Yosemite closes after violent flooding

Yosemite January 18, 1997
Web posted at: 4:30 p.m. EST

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California (CNN) -- Winter storms and floods have forced officials to close the most popular section of Yosemite National Park through at least March 1. Park officials blamed washed-out roads, damaged buildings and broken sewer lines for the lengthy shutdown.

"This is the longest closure in the park's 106-year history," park ranger Geoff Green said. "The reason is simply floods."


Yosemite Valley has been closed since January 1, after a destructive rainstorm swept through the park. It caused snow on the ground to melt, resulting in massive flooding. Previously, the longest the park had closed was for 21 days during December 1995, due to the government shutdown.

In the valley, the serene green meadows and placid forests turned into a valley of rushing waterways as raging waters from the Merced River spilled over.

Trailers were carried away as if they were bath tub floats. Visitor buildings were inundated, and sections of roads were washed away and replaced with 30-foot-deep craters.


"The park experienced the largest flood on record," Green said. "Large pieces of Highway 140 are missing. ... We're talking hundreds of feet."

Green, who has been living in Yosemite Valley since the floods began, said if he were to try to drive to his home in a nearby town, it would take three hours. The drive usually takes 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, the assessment of damage to park infrastructure is nearing completion. The National Park Service plans to issue a preliminary damage report January 22.


Officials will then decide how the park will go about reopening the scenic Yosemite Valley, which attracts more than 4 million visitors each year.

Green said if there is a positive lesson to learn from the ordeal, it is that the floods highlighted structural problems in the park that officials can now remedy. In the meantime, officials hope the worst is behind them.

"We'll start worrying about spring floods when the time comes," Green said.


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