HELEN, Mont. – Massive flooding ravaged Yellowstone National Park and nearby communities on Monday, washing away roads and bridges, knocking out power and forcing visitors to evacuate parts of the iconic park during the height of the summer tourist season.
All entrances to Yellowstone were closed due to the deluge, caused by heavy rains and melting snow, while park officials moved tourists out of the worst-hit areas. No injuries were reported immediately.
Some of the worst damage occurred in the northern part of the park and in the entrance communities of Yellowstone in southern Montana. National Park Service photos of northern Yellowstone showed a landslide, a washed-out bridge over a creek, and roads badly undermined by floodwaters from the Gardner and Lamar rivers.
The flooding cut off road access to Gardiner, Montana, a town of about 900 people located near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Gardner rivers, just outside the busy North Entrance to Yellowstone.
At a cabin in Gardiner, Parker Manning of Terra Haute, Indiana, got a close view of the rising waters and the riverbank jutting out into the floodwaters of the Yellowstone River right outside his door.
“We started seeing whole trees floating in the river, debris,” Manning told The Associated Press. “I saw only one crazy kayaker going by which was a bit crazy.”
The Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs peaked at 13.88 feet (4.2 meters) on Monday, higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) set in 1918, according to the National Weather Service.
Floodwaters inundated a street in Red Lodge, a Montana town of 2,100 that’s a popular starting point for a scenic, winding drive through the Yellowstone High Country. Twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) northeast in Joliet, Kristan Apodaca wiped away tears as she stood in front of a washed-out bridge, The Billings Gazette reported.
The log cabin that belonged to her grandmother, who died in March, was flooded, as was the park where Apodaca’s husband proposed.
“I’m sixth generation. This is our home,” she said. “This bridge I literally drove yesterday. My mom drove it at 3 a.m. before it was washed.
Yellowstone officials were evacuating the northern part of the park, where roads could remain impassable for an extended period, park superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.
But the floods have also affected the rest of the park, with park officials warning of even greater flooding and potential problems with water supplies and sewage systems in developed areas.
“We won’t know when the park will reopen until the floodwaters subside and we are able to assess the damage throughout the park,” Sholly said in the statement.
The gates to the park will be closed until at least Wednesday, officials said. It is not known how many visitors have been forced to leave the park.
The rains hit just as the summer tourist season was ramping up. June, at the start of an annual surge of over 3 million visitors that only subsides in the fall, is one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.
The remnants of winter – in the form of snow that is still melting and rushing down from the mountains – have created a particularly difficult time to receive heavy rains.
Yellowstone received 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of rain Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The Beartooth Mountains northeast of Yellowstone have reached up to 10 centimeters, according to the National Weather Service.
“It’s raining a lot, but the flooding wouldn’t have been like this if we hadn’t had so much snow,” said Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana. “It’s a flood we’ve never seen in our lifetimes before.”
The rain will likely lessen as cooler temperatures reduce snowmelt in the coming days, Mottice said.
In south-central Montana, flooding from the Stillwater River stranded 68 people in a campground. Stillwater County Emergency Services agencies and crews from the Stillwater mine rescued people from the Woodbine Campground by raft on Monday. Some roads in the area are closed due to flooding and residents have been evacuated.
“We will assess the loss of homes and structures as the waters recede,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
The flooding occurred as other parts of the United States burned in hot, dry weather. More than 100 million Americans have been warned to stay indoors as a heat wave sweeps across states stretching across parts of the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and the east to the Carolinas.
Elsewhere in the West, crews from California to New Mexico fought 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 single weather events usually cannot be directly linked to climate change. without a thorough study.
Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Denver and Mead Gruver in Fort Collins, Colorado, contributed to this report.