Yellowstone National Park flooding: Northern parts may remain closed for ‘extended period of time’

Park officials have told visitors already in the park to leave, and more than 10,000 have left the park since Monday, park director Cam Scholey said Tuesday.

“These record levels make the event a 500-year flood,” according to a Facebook post by public works officials in Billings, Montana.

CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said that although cold temperatures and dry weather allowed some parts of the swollen rivers to begin to recede, higher temperatures are expected later this week and into the end of the week, which could cause more Snow runoff and therefore more flooding.

“There will be no indoor traffic for visitors at any of the five entrances to the park, including visitors with stay and camping reservations, until conditions improve and the park’s infrastructure is assessed,” the park’s statement read.

Rapidly deteriorating road conditions in Yellowstone led to horrific evacuations for some visitors, including parents of CNN Supervising Producer Tim Carter, who had to make their way across a compromised bridge.

“When we were getting past it, it was really scary because the water was running wildly around the bridge,” said Martha Carter. “We later found out that it was gone.”

Meanwhile, some surrounding communities in Montana were left without electricity or safe drinking water because flood conditions made travel impossible or unsafe and weakened the water supply.

Montana Government. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster Tuesday and announce He will seek an urgent presidential disaster declaration to help cover recovery costs.
Serious flooding is just one of several extreme weather events affecting communities across the United States, including a severe heat wave affecting more than 100 million people, and severe storms cutting power to hundreds of thousands in the Midwest and Ohio River Valley.

Massive floods prompted evacuations and rescue operations

Flooded rivers and melting snow including the Yellowstone River, which runs northwest through Yellowstone Park in Wyoming and then north and east through several nearby Montana communities.

Floods washed away sections of roads, especially in the northern part of the park, inundating homes, businesses and infrastructure in southern Montana on Monday, forcing many families to evacuate. In Gardiner, Montana, the park’s north entrance gate, video from eyewitnesses showed a building collapse into the Yellowstone River on Monday.

In Montana’s Park County, which includes Gardiner, at least two homes collapsed into the stray river and several homes and businesses were inundated, Greg Coleman, the county’s director of disaster emergency services, told CNN Wednesday.

For some, roads and bridges have become temporarily impassable due to flooding, leaving them trapped, sometimes without clean water or electricity.

The force said the Montana National Guard used four helicopters to assist with evacuations in affected areas on Monday and Tuesday and also sent soldiers to Red Lodge to establish a command center for search and rescue efforts. On Wednesday, he said, the Revolutionary Guards had used helicopters to rescue 87 people in south-central Montana since Monday.

A helicopter company in Montana has transported about 40 people from Gardiner, which was temporarily isolated by the flooding, Laura Jones of the Rocky Mountain Routes told CNN.

A house pulled into a flooded creek in Red Lodge, Montana, is photographed on Tuesday.

In the Absarouki community of southern Montana, located along a tributary of the Yellowstone River, resident Tracy Blanchek and her husband had just reached their long-awaited goal of getting a new home when flood threat forced them to evacuate.

Now, she told CNN, she desperately hopes to avoid the destruction seen in other homes, some of which have been washed away. “(We weren’t) able to buy a new house,” she said. “It’s sitting up the driveway, and hopefully our house is there by a miracle from God.”

Park County Sheriff Brad Pichler said the road from Livingston to Gardiner reopened Tuesday to local traffic and goods and services, but there was still “significant damage.”

A road near the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park was badly damaged by flooding.

Floods closed businesses in Gardiner

The floods in Yellowstone also had a negative impact on business in the area.

Tami Ray MacDonald owns the historic Yellowstone Park Hotel in Gardiner and told CNN on Wednesday that she and her staff are “at the end of a rope” because the flooding and closure of Yellowstone Park “cut us off from the world.”

MacDonald said the Park Hotel is usually booked one to two years in advance.

Images taken Tuesday afternoon show the aftermath of flooding in Red Lodge, Montana.  The pictures show the street covered in rocks and debris caused by the rising water level.

“This entrance closure during high season has surprised everyone with no backup plans to survive supporting our livelihood,” MacDonald told CNN via text message, adding that several visitors have called and emailed that they are looking forward to staying at her hotel and They have no alternative plans.

“So (we) are empty now, the employees have planned their lives to be here to keep things private, feel a bit left out, neglected, and sick to our guests who have been looking forward to their time here, to run away, and so excited,” the McDonald’s text read. “A lot of the guests are very upset, crying, not knowing what to do.”

Zachary Bird told CNN he took these photos Tuesday along Broadway in Red Lodge, Montana.

Carrie Heusing, who works at the Yellowstone Gateway Inn, told CNN that the area has been a ghost town this week. She said one hotel closed and sent all of their employees home. Her hotel will hold a meeting to decide what they can do in the future.

“It all depends on tourism,” Huesing said. Huesing said the Yellowstone Gateway Inn has been booked for a year, and now there is only one person in the hotel who has checked out recently.

The flood wave moves to Billings and further east

A wave of flooding is still moving east on Wednesday along the Yellowstone River, threatening further unrest in southern Montana.

By early Wednesday, significant river flooding was reported in Billings, a 175-mile drive east of Gardiner. The National Weather Service said the river in Billings rose above an earlier record, 15 feet, around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“Exactly how high the river is, is a minor component with the floodwaters affecting the scale a bit at these higher levels, but we haven’t seen a shrinkage trend yet,” Billings Service Office Tweet early Wednesday.
Pictures posted to Facebook by the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office showed fields and streets along the river flooded on Tuesday outside Billings. One of the photos showed two people walking in deep water in a neighborhood.
Billings public works officials said Tuesday night they decided Tuesday night to shut down water station facilities after flooding in the Yellowstone River caused the river to exceed 16 feet, according to a Facebook post by the department.

“As of Wednesday 8:30 a.m., the station’s water level has reached more than 16 feet. For the station to operate effectively, the river must be 15 feet or less,” officials said in the Post.

Public Works Director Debbie Melling said on Wednesday that no one had planned for the 500-year event when the facilities were designed, and acknowledged the diligence of operational teams for the facilities.

She added that the station will not return to its “normal operations” until the river water level drops.

All tanks are full, Melling said, and the plant will supply water to the community for a day to a day and a half. Parks manager Mike Pegg said fire trucks were filling up and the water was turned off for all city parks.

The river should reach the summit on Wednesday – although attention will turn to higher temperatures that could cause more snowmelt and more flooding in the area this weekend.

Billings will approach record highs in the high 90s on Friday and Saturday, while higher highs will be in the 60s and 70s. This will be warm enough to melt the remaining ice pack and lead to additional hikes in the rivers over the weekend. More rain is likely in the area on Sunday.

Lots of rain and snow melts in just three days

What led to the flooding was heavy rainfall and snow runoff over the weekend in the Beartooth and Absaroka mountain ranges, which run across the Montana and Wyoming state line.

The National Weather Service Billings said Tuesday that the combination of rain and snowmelt resulted in a “total water event of at least 4 to 9 inches.”

This amount of runoff is similar to an area receiving two to three times the usual June rainfall in just three days, according to CNN meteorologists.

The National Park Service said in a news release that park officials have ordered all visitors to exit accommodations and campgrounds and leave the park to prevent anyone from becoming stranded. Shuli said the park averaged 15,000 to 20,000 visitors in June.

The park has also closed off the Yellowstone backcountry and has been in contact with groups in the area.

Washed bridge at Rescue Creek in Yellowstone National Park.

“We have contacted or know where every user in another country is currently in Yellowstone,” Scholey said, noting that one group is still in the Northern Range. He said it was not necessary to evacuate the helicopters.

Schole said there were no known injuries or deaths in the park from the flooding, and officials do not believe the animals in the park have been significantly affected.

The park’s southern ring “looks less affected than the northern roads” and teams will try to determine when the ring can reopen. But officials expect it to remain closed at least through Sunday, the park’s launch statement said.

CNN’s Amanda Jackson, Judson Jones, Carol Alvarado, and Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.

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