While all entrances of Yellowstone National Park are temporarily closed because flooding has damaged roads and bridges, the park’s northern portion in particular may remain closed for “a substantial length of time,” park officials said Tuesday.
“Many sections of road in (the park’s northern areas) are completely gone and will require substantial time and effort to reconstruct,” a news release reads. ” … It is probable that road sections in northern Yellowstone will not reopen this season due to the time required for repairs.”
Dangerous flooding caused by abundant rain and rapid snowmelt began to hit the park and several counties in southern Montana on Monday, washing out or eroding roads and bridges and inflicting widespread damage on homes and businesses.
The park on Monday closed all five of Yellowstone’s entrances in Montana and Wyoming to inbound traffic – in part to prevent people from being stranded as conditions deteriorated.
Yellowstone National Park could partly reopen as early as Monday, the Casper Star Tribune reports. Cam Sholly, the park’s superintendent, told residents and tourists in Cody on Wednesday rangers could reopen parts of the park not badly impacted by flooding, according to the paper.
Park officials told visitors already in the park to leave, and more than 10,000 have left the park since Monday, Sholly said Tuesday.
Though cooler temperatures and drier weather have allowed some parts of swollen rivers to start receding, higher temperatures are expected later this week and into the weekend, which could cause more snowmelt runoff and therefore more flooding, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
“There will be no inbound visitor traffic at any of the five entrances into the park, including visitors with lodging and camping reservations, until conditions improve and park infrastructure is evaluated,” the park’s release reads.
Quickly deteriorating road conditions in Yellowstone created harrowing evacuations for some visitors, including the parents of CNN supervising producer Tim Carter, who had to exit over a bridge which had been compromised.
“When we were going over it, it was really scary because the water was already violently swirling around the bridge,” Martha Carter said. “We did find out later that it had washed out.”
Meanwhile, some surrounding communities in Montana were left without power or safe drinking water as flood conditions made it impossible or unsafe to travel and compromised water supplies.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster Tuesday and announced he would seek an expedited presidential disaster declaration to help cover the cost of recovery.
The dangerous flooding is just one of several extreme weather events bearing down on communities across the US, including a blistering heat wave affecting more than 100 million people, and severe storms knocking out power for hundreds of thousands in the Midwest and Ohio River Valley.
Dramatic flooding prompts evacuations and rescues
Rain and snowmelt flooded rivers including the Yellowstone River, which runs northwest through Yellowstone Park in Wyoming and then north and eastward through several nearby Montana communities.
The flooding washed out parts of roads especially in the northern part of the park, and inundated south Montana homes, businesses and infrastructure Monday, forcing many families to evacuate. In the Montana city of Gardiner, a gateway to the park’s northern entrance, video from witnesses showed a building collapsing into the Yellowstone River on Monday.
In Montana’s Park County, which includes Gardiner, at least two homes collapsed into the intruding river and numerous homes and businesses were flooded, Greg Coleman, the county’s disaster emergency services manager, told CNN Wednesday.
For some, roads and bridges were rendered temporarily impassable by the flooding, leaving them trapped, at times without clean water or power.
The Montana National Guard used four helicopters to help with evacuations in affected areas on Monday and Tuesday and also sent soldiers to the city of Red Lodge to establish a command center for search and rescue efforts, the force said. The Guard has used helicopters to rescue 87 people in south-central Montana since Monday, it said Wednesday.
A Montana helicopter company flew about 40 people out of Gardiner, which was temporarily isolated by flooding, Laura Jones with Rocky Mountain Rotors told CNN.
In the south Montana community of Absarokee, situated along a Yellowstone River tributary, resident Tracy Planichek and her husband had just reached their long-awaited goal of having a new home when the flood threat forced them to evacuate.
Now, she told CNN, she is desperately hoping it has avoided the destruction seen in other homes, some of which were swept away. “(We’ve) never been able to afford a new house,” she said. “It’s sitting at the top of the lane, and we’re hoping that by some God miracle that our house will be there.”
A road from Livingston into Gardiner was reopened Tuesday to local traffic, goods and services, but “significant damage” remains, Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler said.