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Yellowstone National Park damaged by record flooding, dangerous rockslides: What we know

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6/14/2022 Christine Fernando and Hannah Phillips, USA TODAY
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GARDINER, Mont. — Yellowstone National Park officials assessed damage Tuesday as the park remained closed through at least Wednesday amid dangerous floods and rockslides that have eroded roads, ripped apart bridges and led to evacuations this week.

With flood levels "beyond record levels" and rainfall expected for the next several days, all five entrances to the park were closed, officials said Monday.

The park has seen multiple road and bridge failures, power outages and mudslides, causing evacuations that started in the northern area of the park. 

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“I’ve never seen this, not in my lifetime,” said Austin King, a firefighter and EMT in Gardiner, a town just outside Yellowstone's busy northern entrance.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but floodwaters swept away numerous homes, bridges and other structures with the northern part of the park suffering the worst damage.

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Parker Manning, who is visiting from Terre Haute, Indiana, watched the flooding from a cabin in Gardiner. He said he saw trees and a mostly intact house floating in rushing floodwaters.

The Yellowstone River reached highs of almost 14 feet on Monday, far higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet set more than a century ago, according the the National Weather Service.

Yellowstone communities left stranded, without power

The flooding left Yellowstone's small gateway communities in southern Montana isolated and without power, leading to evacuations by boat and helicopter.

With road access cut off to Gardiner, the town of about 900 people became virtually an island, where the only way in or out was by air. A 10-person bunker was among the buildings that slipped from the riverbank into the water. Only a portion of the house's foundation remained Tuesday.

"The community of Gardiner is currently isolated, and we are working with the county and state of Montana to provide necessary support to residents, who are currently without water and power in some areas," Yellowstone officials said Monday.

Floodwaters also isolated Cooke City and led to evacuations in Livingston. As Stillwater River in south-central Montana flooded, 68 people were stranded at a campground as crews rescued campers by raft.

Officials in Park County, which encompasses these cities, issued shelter-in-place orders Monday, warning flooding had made drinking water unsafe in many communities. Residents hauled bottled water home from stores and worried about a potential food shortage. The county said water and air rescues were underway amid evacuations Monday.

"Extensive flooding throughout Park County has washed out bridges, roads, and left communities and homes isolated," Park County said in a statement.

In the south-central Montana town of Joliet, Kristan Apodaca cried as she watched floodwaters overtake her grandmother's log cabin and the park where her husband proposed.

Historic flooding in Yellowstone National Park forced residents and tourists to evacuate the area. © Frank Piscani, USA TODAY NETWORK Historic flooding in Yellowstone National Park forced residents and tourists to evacuate the area.

"I am sixth-generation," she told the Billings Gazette. "This is our home."

King, the EMT in Gardiner, said the flooding was "damaging for a lot of people."

"Some have lost their houses; others can’t go to work," King said. "People are worried about food shortages already."

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When will Yellowstone reopen?

Yellowstone officials have prohibited visitors from entering the park at any of its five entrances until at least Wednesday.

Cory Mottice, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Billings, Montana, said reduced rain and cooler temperatures, which could lead to decreased snowmelt, may lessen flooding. 

Still, "this is flooding that we’ve just never seen in our lifetimes before," Mottice said. 

Why is Yellowstone flooding?

Record rainfall combined with rapidly melting snowpack caused the deluge of flooding this week with scientists pointing to climate change as the culprit behind more intense and frequent weather events.

The floods came as the summer tourist season was ramping up in June, one of the park's busiest months.

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What state is Yellowstone National Park in?

The world's first national park, Yellowstone National Park is a nearly 3,500-square-mile wilderness park on top of a volcanic hot spot. It's mostly in Wyoming but also spreads into Montana and Idaho.

The park allows visitors "to observe wildlife in an intact ecosystem, explore geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, and view geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River," according to the Yellowstone's website.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

Hannah Phillips, of The Palm Beach Post, reported from Gardiner, Montana.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Yellowstone National Park damaged by record flooding, dangerous rockslides: What we know

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