Yellowstone floods wipe out roads, bridges, and visitors

HELENA, Mont. –

Massive flooding devastated Yellowstone National Park and nearby communities on Monday, washing out roads and bridges, knocking out power 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 snow cover, while park officials moved tourists out of the hardest-hit areas. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Some of the worst damage occurred in the northern part of the park and in the Yellowstone gateway communities of southern Montana. National Park Service photos of northern Yellowstone showed a mudslide, a bridge washed out 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 near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Gardner rivers, just outside Yellowstone’s busy North Entrance.

In a cabin in Gardiner, Parker Manning of Terra Haute, Indiana, was able to see up close how the water rose and the riverbank crumbled into the raging floodwaters of the Yellowstone River right outside his door.

“We started seeing whole trees floating down the river, debris,” Manning told The Associated Press. “I saw a crazy, single kayaker going down, which was crazy.”

The Yellowstone River in Corwin Springs peaked Monday at 13.88 feet (4.2 meters), 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 is a popular starting point for a winding, scenic route into the Yellowstone Highlands. Twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) northeast, in Joliet, Kristan Apodaca wiped away tears as she stood in front of a flooded 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 a sixth generation. This is our home,” he said. “That bridge I literally drove yesterday. My mom drove it at 3am before she washed up.”

Yellowstone officials were evacuating the northern part of the park, where roads can remain impassable for a considerable period of time, park superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.

But the flooding affected the rest of the park as well, with park officials warning of even greater flooding and potential problems with the water supply and sewage systems in developed areas.

“We will not know when the park will reopen until the floodwaters recede and we can assess the damage throughout the park,” Sholly said in the statement.

The park gates will be closed until at least Wednesday, officials said.

The rains came just as the summer tourist season was ramping up. June, at the start of an annual wave of more than 3 million visitors that doesn’t subside until fall, is one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.

The remnants of winter, in the form of still melting snow falling from the mountains, created an especially bad time for heavy rains.

Yellowstone received 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of rain on Saturday, Sunday and into Monday. The Beartooth Mountains northeast of Yellowstone got up to 4 inches (10 centimeters), according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s a lot of rain, but the flooding wouldn’t have been like that if there wasn’t so much snow,” said Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana. “This is a flood that we have never seen before in our lives.”

Rain is likely to taper off as cooler temperatures reduce snowmelt in the coming days, Mottice said.

In south-central Montana, flooding on the Stillwater River has left 68 people stranded in a camp. Stillwater County emergency services agencies and crews from the Stillwater mine rescued people Monday from Camp Woodbine by raft. 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 US burned in hot, dry weather. More than 100 million Americans have been warned to stay indoors as a heat wave settles over states stretching across parts of the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and as far east as 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 generally cannot be directly linked to climate change without extensive study.

Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Denver and Mead Gruver in Fort Collins, Colorado, contributed to this report.

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