Dozens evacuated when unprecedented floods force Yellowstone National Park to close all entrances

A Montana helicopter company transported about 40 people Monday and Tuesday from a community runway in Gardiner Town, Park County, Laura Jones of Rocky Mountain Rotors told CNN.

“We didn’t” rescue “anyone who was in danger, we were mostly transporting people out of there,” Jones said in an email. “We also brought in some passengers who had pets they needed to go to or live in and who had to return home.”

The park announced Monday afternoon that all park entrances were closed to visitors, citing “record floods” and a forecast of more rain.

According to CNN weather calculations, heavy rains and rapid snowmelt combined to produce up to three-quarters of a foot of runoff, which is similar to the area it takes 2 to 3 months. of June precipitation in just three days.

“Our first priority has been to evacuate the northern section of the park where we have multiple road and bridge failures, mudslides and other problems,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement Monday.

Immediately north of Yellowstone, several cities in Montana Park County were also experiencing severe flooding, which has devastated bridges and roads, making it unsafe to travel or impossible to evacuate, Park County officials said on Facebook.

Officials have also issued warnings in many areas for residents to avoid drinking local water due to a broken water pipe and submerged wells.

The town of Gardiner in Park County, located at the northern entrance to Yellowstone, is isolated and surrounded by water after heavy flooding ravaged bridges and roads, county officials said on Tuesday on Facebook.

Sholly told reporters Tuesday evening that the road between Gardiner and Cooke City will likely remain closed for the rest of the season. He said no damage estimates are available yet.

“This is not going to be an easy rebuild,” Sholly said, referring to the five-mile stretch of road most affected by the floods. He said officials will have to assess whether it makes sense to rebuild the road in this area.

Gardiner is a hub of activity in the region and the only entrance that remained open for wheeled vehicle use throughout the year, according to the city’s website.

CNN tried to contact Park County officials to confirm how many people are affected, but was unable to contact them.

Many roads and bridges are inaccessible, along with some railroad tracks. Some roads and bridges remain open to emergency traffic. The National Guard and local rescue groups were conducting evacuations, water rescues and airlifts.

Officials warned residents on Tuesday that displaced wildlife could run through their properties, with bones, deer and livestock already detected.

“The river had never been so high before in my house,” said Elizabeth Aluck, who lives in Gardiner. Aluck told CNN Monday afternoon that he cannot evacuate because the roads and bridges around his house are washed away.

An Indiana family who was staying in a short-term rental cabin on Gardiner told CNN they had to leave Monday morning, but the flood left them stranded.

“Water levels were high on Saturday, but in the last 10 or 12 hours things have gotten harder,” Parker Manning said. “Our exit from the city would be north of 89, but currently these roads are all under water.”

According to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller, the Yellowstone River, which runs through the park and several cities in Park County, rose to a record high Monday due to heavy rains and significant runoff from the merger. snow at higher altitudes.

The width of the Yellowstone River in Corwin Springs, Montana, reached 13.88 feet Monday afternoon, surpassing the historic 11.5-foot high ridge since 1918, NOAA River width data show.

The governor declares a statewide disaster

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte on Tuesday declared a “statewide disaster” “to help affected communities recover as soon as possible,” according to a Twitter post.

The melting snow and rains in Beartooths and Absarokas, which span the Montana-Wyoming border, have caused “infrequent or never-before-seen flooding in many rivers and streams in the area,” the Billings National Meteorological Service said. on your website.

The Montana National Guard had evacuated 12 people stranded by floods in Roscoe and Cooke City, the governor said in a separate Twitter post. The National Guard said it was also responding to a search and rescue request in the East Rosebud Lake area.

Several roads and bridges are severely damaged in southern Montana and may be temporarily closed, according to a tweet from Montana’s emergency and disaster services.

In recent days, extreme weather events have affected communities across the country, including storms that left nearly 300,000 customers without electricity in the Midwest, a tornado threat in Chicago and a severe heat dome that has left more than one-third of the U.S. population is under control. heat alerts.

Some are evacuated while others remain trapped

As several roads and bridges became impassable due to flooding, park and Montana County officials worked to evacuate those who could and to support those who could not get out.

The National Guard and local search and rescue teams were assisting with evacuations and rescues across the county, including two air elevators and a quick water rescue, the county said.

Several communities in Park County were isolated and surrounded by water, including Gardiner, Cooke City and Silver Gate, an update said on the county’s Facebook page. Rapid flooding has also damaged homes, as images show houses partially or completely collapsing.

In neighboring Carbon County, Montana, flooding has disrupted utility lines, leaving many Red Lodge customers without electricity, officials said.

Meanwhile, several Yellowstone roads and bridges have also been affected by flooding, park officials say. Videos released by the park show parts of the paved road washed or heavily eroded.

Due to higher flood level forecasts and concerns about water and wastewater systems, the park also began pulling visitors out of the park’s southern loop on Monday, Sholly said.

“We will not know when the park will reopen until the flood waters subside and we can assess the damage to the entire park,” Sholly said. “The northern loop is likely to be closed for a considerable amount of time.”

The dramatic increase in rain strengthens the flood waters

In June, rainfall in northwestern Wyoming and southern Montana was more than 400 percent of the region’s average, according to Miller.

The dramatic increase in rainfall has been coupled with near-record temperatures in the region that have caused snow to melt in high-altitude areas, NWS said in Riverton, Wyoming. During Sunday night, melting snow made its way to streams and rivers, further increasing flood waters, the NWS said.

In addition to the record set in Corwin Springs, the Yellowstone River reached 10.9 feet in Livingston, Montana on Monday, surpassing the 1997 zone record of 10.7 feet, Billings NWS said.

CNN’s David Williams, Danielle Sills, Sara Smart, Raja Razek, Brandon Miller and Amanda Jackson contributed to this report.

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