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Damaging Yellowstone flooding forces out 10,000 visitors, keeps park closed

Five groups of campers remain in the backcountry in the northern range of the massive park. No injuries have been reported.

More than 10,000 visitors were moved out of Yellowstone National Park after severe floods that washed out roads, destroyed bridges and sent a house into a river, officials said Tuesday.

Up to 3 inches of rain over the weekend and snow melt from warm temperatures combined to create damaging conditions in the 150-year-old park that spans three states.

The 2.2 million-acre park was closed Monday and cleared of all visitors. Five groups of campers remain in the backcountry in the northern range, and they were being assisted, the park service said.

It’s not clear when the park — which in normal times can see a million visitors a month — will reopen. There appears to be so much damage to a road that runs along the park’s north that it will likely be closed for the season, park Superintendent Cam Sholly said.

Officials won’t know how bad it is until the water recedes, Sholly said.

“You can see by the pictures, it’s extensive,” Sholly said.

No injuries have been reported related to the severe weather event.

Image: Flooding
A damaged house that was pulled into Rock Creek in Red Lodge, Mont., by raging floodwaters, on June 14, 2022.Matthew Brown / AP

The floods also stranded visitors in the Montana town of Gardiner, and the park gateway community was cut off after floods closed U.S. Highway 89, officials said.

The highway was reopened Tuesday, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said. The governor declared a disaster, and said the state is also seeking a presidential disaster declaration.

In a tweet early Wednesday morning, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said the “damage to Yellowstone is severe.”

“My office and I will continue to work closely with the Natl Park Service & Dept of Interior to ensure we provide maximum resources and support to repair damaged roads, bridges and infrastructure throughout the park,” she said.

In Yellowstone, photos showed washed-out roads that were completely or partially collapsed, with debris piled against bridges. A house for park workers and families in Gardiner was washed into the Yellowstone River.

Power was knocked out to the park for so long that there have been wastewater treatment facility failures in multiple locations, Sholly said.

Officials are looking at how to reopen the park's “South Loop,” where damage was less extensive, to visitors once safe. It will likely mean some type of reservation system, the park said.

“One thing we definitely know is that half the park cannot support all of the visitation,” Sholly said at a briefing Tuesday.

Park County Commissioner Bill Berg said that businesses in gateway communities like Gardiner had just finally had a good season after the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed travel and vacations in 2020.

“The businesses I talked to had reservations that were running even stronger this summer — and now that’s all gone,” he said.

It’s believed to be the first time that Yellowstone has ever been totally closed because of flooding, Sholly said.

The park, which is mostly in Wyoming but also in parts of Montana and Idaho, was closed for two months in 2020 due to the pandemic, and it has also periodically closed during government shutdowns.

In Park County, which is adjacent to the park’s northern border, there were rescue operations along the Yellowstone River Valley, Sheriff Brad Bichler said.

There have been 10 rescues by boat and air, the county government said, but no deaths or serious injuries. Several homes in Gardiner were lost, Bichler said, and at least one bridge was completely washed away.

In some areas, the water has receded and showed the damage, but in others it remained high Tuesday, he said.

“Lots and lots of folks experiencing lots of extensive damage,” Bichler said. "And that's going to remain to be seen in the days to come."