As deadly flooding continues to damage the towns, roads, and bridges along the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park may be closed “indefinitely.”
Park officials described the region’s massive flooding as a once-in-a-thousand-year occurrence that might change the path of the Yellowstone River and neighboring landscapes forever.
According to officials, the river’s volume is flowing 20,000 cubic feet per second quicker than the previous record set in the 1990s.
10,000 tourists were evacuated, including a dozen trapped campers who were rescued by helicopter, entirely emptying the park.
Officials issued a warning on Tuesday that local drinking water has become dangerous, and that residents should be on the lookout for displaced wildlife.
All park entrances were closed on Tuesday, and while park officials believe some southern routes may reopen in a week, they estimate that the northern roads will remain closed until the fall.
Streams that erupted into roaring rivers overwhelmed or swept away houses in adjacent villages, roads were carved away, and bridges collapsed into the torrent.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte declared a statewide catastrophe.
Officials have described the unprecedented floods as a once-in-a-millennium event.
“This isn’t my words, but I’ve heard this is a thousand-year event,” said Cam Sholly, Yellowstone’s superintendent.
Sholly said that the river’s volumetric flow has shattered all previous records as of last weekend.
”From what I understand, one of the highest cubic feet per second ratings for the Yellowstone River recorded in the ’90s was at 31,000 CFS, and Sunday night we were at 51,000 CFS.”
Sholly also stated that historic weather events “seem to be happening more and more frequently.”
As rockslides fell down on roads, mudslides tumbled down valleys, and the roaring river dragged landscapes, bridges, and buildings alike into its fury, all tourists were ordered out of the park.
“It is just the scariest river ever,” said Kate Gomez of Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Tuesday.
After the park’s shutdown, 12 trekkers stayed in the park’s backcountry and were finally rescued by a Montana National Guard helicopter.
Gianforte declared a statewide emergency on Tuesday, claiming that quick snowmelt and recent heavy rains had caused “severe flooding that is destroying homes, washing away roads and bridges, and leaving Montanans without power and water services.”
“I have asked state agencies to bring their resources to bear in support of these communities,” he added.
The upheaval came after one of the region’s wettest springs in many years, and it coincided with a dramatic spike in summer temperatures that expedited runoff of melting snow from late-winter storms in the park’s higher altitudes.
The disastrous impacts of the extreme weather were documented on video by shocked residents and passersby, including a home carried away by rising floodwaters on the banks of the Yellowstone River, a bridge collapse, and cars on a mountain pass just missing falling rocks displaced by the storm.
A creek running through Red Lodge, Montana – a town of 2,100 that serves as a popular jumping-off point for a gorgeous, meandering road into Yellowstone, – broke its banks and inundated the main thoroughfare, leaving fish swimming in the street a day later under sunny skies.
Residents recounted a terrifying scene in which the water rose from a trickle to a torrent in a matter of hours.
The water brought down telephone lines, collapsed fences, and dug wide fractures in the ground across a community of hundreds of homes. The electricity was knocked out but restored by Tuesday, while the afflicted area still had no running water.