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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Yellowstone flood could close parts of park all summer

Aerial photo taken from a helicopter of a paved road, eroded and washed out in several places due to high water levels in adjacent river.  (Yellowstone National Park)
By Gabe Hiatt The Washington Post

The northern portion of Yellowstone National Park that was most affected by unprecedented flooding this week is not expected to reopen to visitors for months, officials said Tuesday night.

Roads and bridges devastated by surging river water, rock slides, mudslides and toppled trees have “severely damaged” the infrastructure, officials observed in an aerial assessment. No known injuries or deaths had occurred in the park as of Tuesday night, according to a news release.

“The National Park Service will make every effort to repair these roads as soon as possible; however, it is probable that road sections in northern Yellowstone will not reopen this season due to the time required for repairs,” the release said.

Park officials identified problem areas from the north entrance in isolated Gardiner, Mont., through Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley and Cooke City, Mont., which is close to the park’s northeast entrance. Park officials are also monitoring water and wastewater systems at Canyon Village and Mammoth Hot Springs.

Yellowstone closed all five entrances to the park Monday after snowmelt and record rainfall contributed to flooding that has knocked out power and stranded local communities.

More than 10,000 visitors were evacuated from the park, the Associated Press reports. The Montana National Guard said on its Facebook page Wednesday that it had rescued 87 people and flown more than 41 hours in support of search-and-rescue operations in south-central Montana. Previous updates from the National Guard named rescues in Roscoe, Fromberg, Cooke City and East Rosebud Lake.

While the southern loop of the 2.2 million-acre park has been less affected, officials said all entrances will remain closed through at least Sunday while they assess damage. Attractions in the south of the park include the Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone Lake and views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Yellowstone officials said water levels are expected to fall Wednesday, but more flooding is possible in the coming days.

The National Park Service describes Yellowstone’s Northern Range as home to the park’s biggest elk herd and “arguably the most carnivore-rich area in North America.” According to the Park Service, Yellowstone sees half its annual visitation in June, July and August.

Record floods in Montana are part of a nationwide spate of extreme weather stretching from fires in the Southwest to tornado warnings around Chicago to extreme heat in the central and southeast United States.