HELENA, Mont. Massive flooding on Monday devastated Yellowstone National Park and nearby communities, washing away roads and bridges, cutting electricity and forcing visitors to evacuate parts of the iconic park at the height of the summer tourist season.
All entrances to Yellowstone were closed due to the deluge, caused by heavy rains and melting snowpack, as park officials diverted tourists from the worst-affected areas.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, although dozens of stranded campers had to be rescued by raft in southern Montana. Authorities also said they would assess a potential “loss of homes and structures” in Montana’s Stillwater County.
Elsewhere, the worst damage happened in northern Yellowstone and the park’s gateway communities in southern Montana. National Park Service photos of northern Yellowstone showed a landslide, a bridge washed away over a creek and roads severely undercut by the churning waters of the Gardner and Lamar Rivers.
The flood blocked access to Gardiner, Montana, a town of about 900 residents near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Gardner rivers, just outside Yellowstone’s busy north entrance.
In a cabin in Gardiner, visitor Parker Manning of Terra Haute, Indiana, got a close-up view of the rising water and riverbank draining into the raging waters of the Yellowstone River just outside his door.
“We started seeing whole trees floating in the river, debris,” Manning told The Associated Press. “I saw a crazy single kayaker come down, which was kind of insane.”
The Yellowstone River near Corwin Springs climbed 13.88 feet Monday, higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet in 1918, according to the National Weather Service.
Floods engulfed a street in Red Lodge, a Montana town of 2,100 that is a popular jumping-off point for a scenic, winding route into the Yellowstone highlands. Twenty-five miles northeast, in Joliet, Kristan Apodaca wiped away tears as she stood on the other side of a washed-out bridge, The Billings Gazette reported.
Her grandmother’s log cabin, who died in March, was flooded, as was the park where Apodaca’s husband proposed.
“I am of the sixth generation. This is our home,” she says. “I literally drove that bridge yesterday. My mother drove it at 3 a.m. before it was washed away.’
Yellowstone officials were evacuating the northern portion of the park, where roads could remain impassable for a significant period of time, park superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.
But the flooding also affected the rest of the park, with park officials warning of even greater flooding and potential problems with water supply and wastewater systems in developed areas.
“We won’t know the timing of the park’s reopening until the water levels have subsided and we can assess damage throughout the park,” Sholly said in the statement.
The park’s gates will be closed through at least Wednesday, officials said. It is not clear how many visitors had to leave the park.
The rain fell just as the summer season got underway. June, with the onset of an annual surge of more than 3 million visitors that doesn’t wane until the fall, is one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.
Remnants of winter — in the form of snow still melting and racing off the mountains — made for a particularly bad time to get heavy rain.
Yellowstone received 2.5 inches of rain Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The Beartooth Mountains northeast of Yellowstone gained a whopping 10 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
“It’s raining a lot, but the flooding wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have so much snow,” said Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana. “This is a flood we’ve never seen before in our lives.”
Rain is likely to abate, while cooler temperatures will reduce snowmelt in the coming days, Mottice said.
Flooding from the Stillwater River left 68 people stranded at a campground in south-central Montana. Stillwater County emergency services and crews from the Stillwater Mine rescued people from the Woodbine Campground with a raft on Monday. Some roads in the area were closed due to flooding and residents have been evacuated.
“We will assess the loss of homes and structures when the water recedes,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
The floods happened as other parts of the US burned in hot, dry weather. More than 100 million Americans were warned to stay indoors as a heat wave sweeps across states stretching through parts of the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas.
Elsewhere in the west, crews from California to New Mexico battled wildfires in hot, dry, and windy weather.
Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and frequent extreme events such as storms, droughts, floods and wildfires, although individual weather events usually cannot be directly linked to climate change without extensive research.