Yellowstone evacuates over 10,000 amid unprecedented floods

·5 min read

Yellowstone National Park remained closed Tuesday after "unprecedented rainfall" created "extremely hazardous conditions," including heavy flooding and rockslides. The park closed Monday afternoon, with more than 10,000 visitors evacuated as the national landmark closed for the first time in its history due to flooding.

In an press conference update Tuesday afternoon, Yellowstone Park Superintendent Cam Sholly stated that most visitors have been evacuated from the area, with only a small group of backpackers remaining and trying to get out. Helicopter rescue is not necessary at this time, and no injuries were reported due to the severe weather. One fatal heart attack was reported at a campground, unrelated to any flooding incident.

Park officials state that some major roads may not be repaired for the entire summer season, just as tourists begin preparation for summer visits during the park's 150th anniversary. More than a million visitors are expected at Yellowstone this year, with park officials still unsure how to handle the potential influx of tourist traffic.

According to the National Park Service, there will be no inbound visitor traffic at any of the park's five entrances through at least Wednesday.

"It just came pretty quick and out of nowhere," Brendan Phillips, a stranded backpacker from St. Louis, Missouri, told AccuWeather's National Reporter Bill Wadell in an interview on Tuesday. "It seems like the locals weren't really ready for it either. I think if everyone knew it was coming this town would be almost empty. It came pretty quick so that's why so many people are stranded here."

Sholly provided an update in the early afternoon hours Monday, stating that the "first priority" of park officials was to evacuate the northern section of the park, where there were multiple reported road and bridge failures, as well as mudslides.

As of Tuesday, the Montana National Guard (MTNG) had successfully evacuated 12 people who were stranded due to flooding. At the request of local law enforcement, the MTNG provided two helicopters to assist with search and rescue efforts.

In the early afternoon hours Tuesday, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster due to the crisis, stating that rapid snowmelt and heavy rains have led to flooding that is "leaving Montanans without power and water services." The National Weather Service in Billings reported that the Yellowstone River reached 10.9 feet in Livingston, Montana, exceeding a record of 10.7 feet set in 1997.

Onlookers recorded as a teetering house was washed off a riverbank along the Yellowstone River Monday. The video continued to capture the mostly intact house tumble into the water and then glide down the river.

The community of Gardiner, Montana, was isolated due to the closings, and officials were working with the state of Montana to "provide necessary support to residents, who are currently without water and power in some areas."

Many residents were impacted after Carbella Bridge, which is at the Tom Miner Basin off of U.S. Highway 89, washed away.

Paradise Valley resident, Shay Himenes watched as the rapid floodwaters carried the bridge away.

"Water was just steadily beating on it ... all of a sudden that thing just broke free," Himenes told The Livingston Enterprise. "It just broke free into the water and pretty much took off downstream and started sinking right away."

Lennae Guyer, another Montana resident, who lives north of Carbella Bridge, was trapped in her home without power.

"It just came on really quick, actually," Guyer told NBC Montana. "I guess we'll just kind of wait it out and see what gets opened and what gets cleared out and when and go from there."

Heavy rain was reported throughout the park's territories in Wyoming and Montana. The Yellowstone National Park station of the National Weather Service measured 1.39 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period. Silver Gate, Montana, which resides within Yellowstone boundaries and is about 35 miles northeast of Lake Yellowstone, reported 2.85 inches of rainfall in the area early Monday morning.

According to the USGS, the Lamar River near Tower Falls rose 4.69 feet above its record level, while the Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs broke its record gauge height from 1918 by 2.38 feet.

"This is record territory for flooding in Park County," meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Billings Cory Mottice said to The Livingston Enterprise. "We don't know what this type of flooding is going to do. We've not seen this before."

From the reports, the heaviest rain came between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. MDT Sunday, just hours after Teton County, Wyoming, (which encapsulates southern portions of Yellowstone as well as Grand Teton National Park) issued a special weather statement advising residents to seek shelter.

Sholly's statement noted that higher flood levels are predicted in areas of the park's southern loop, and that visitors in this sector will be moved out in coordination with in-park business partners.

"We will not know the timing of the park's reopening until flood waters subside and we're able to assess the damage throughout the park," Sholly said. "It is likely that the northern loop will be closed for a substantial amount of time. I appreciate the efforts of the Yellowstone team and partners to safely evacuate areas of the park and our gateway community partners who are helping us through this major event."

Those in Paradise Valley, Montana, were issued an evacuation or shelter-in-place order Monday evening, a sign that the park's condition had not improved in the late afternoon hours.

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The National Park Service also noted that the park is undergoing an "unprecedented" amount of rainfall and flooding, which has cut power in multiple locations. Preliminary assessments of the damage show multiple sections of roads either washed out or covered in mud or rocks, as well as multiple bridges affected. Roads in the southern portion of the park are on the verge of flooding out, further restricting access throughout the area.

The park also reports that strains on wastewater and water treatment facilities could become a factor, and that the park is taking precautions to ensure the facilities do not fail.

Rainfall is expected to continue throughout the park region over the next several days.

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