Yellowstone National Park was emptied of visitors on Monday for what some believe was the first time in its history as continued rains exacerbated flooding that forced the closure of all of the park’s entries earlier in the day.
The park’s northern loop was evacuated Monday morning and officials began removing visitors in the southern loop in the afternoon, said park Superintendent Cam Sholly.
“We will not know timing of the park’s reopening until flood waters subside and we’re able to assess the damage throughout the park,” he said. “It is likely that the northern loop will be closed for a substantial amount of time.”
Torrential rains falling on melting snow created what the park called “extremely hazardous conditions” and led to flooding, rockslides, mudslides and road collapses, forcing the evacuation of the park’s northern loop Monday morning.
“Due to predictions of higher flood levels in areas of the park’s southern loop, in addition to concerns with water and wastewater systems, we will begin to move visitors in the southern loop out of the park later today in coordination with our in-park business partners.”
Ryan Hauck, executive director of the Park County Travel Council, told Cowboy State Daily that Sholly told him the park should re-open in two days.
Rob Wallace, a former assistant secretary for the Department of Interior who oversaw the National Park Service, told Cowboy State Daily he believes this may be the first time in the park’s 150-year history it has been completely closed.
There was no immediate indication of how many visitors might have been in Yellowstone when the evacuation order was issued.
Rain had been falling on the area for several consecutive days, speeding the melt of snow left by a weekend blizzard and creating the historic floods.
As of Monday morning, a number of locations in and around the park reported receiving more than 1 inch of rain in the previous 24 hours. The rain was particularly heavy at Silver Gate just north of the park, which recorded 2.8 inches of moisture.
People leaving the park reported having to drive through flooded byways.
Ben Smith, a resident from Utah, took video while he was getting out of Silver Gate, Montana, about 2 miles north of Yellowstone, heading east to Cooke City, Montana — normally a 3-minute drive.
Smith told Cowboy State Daily that he found the last way out of Silver Gate over a small bridge above the Bannock Trail.
A video shows him crossing a river following two other vehicles and driving through rushing water.
Moments later he posted another video showing a front loader and fire trucks helping other vehicles across the washed out roadway.
Other video surfaced on social media throughout the day including a bridge getting washed away in Carbella, Montana, near Tom Miner Basin.
Another video in Gardiner, Montana, showed a riverside home losing its deck as the swollen waters ripped it from the house into a river.
Red Lodge, Montana, near the northern Wyoming border, is dealing with rampant flooding as well. The 19th Street bridge was severely damaged, causing water to flow through downtown Red Lodge.
Video from Red Lodge showed a submerged roadway and the remnants of the 19th Street bridge, according to a Twitter user who filmed the flooding.
“Flood waters through that guys house,” she said, “That’s his garage. Gone. Rock Creek Is flowing down Broadway.”
Red Lodge Fire reported one area of the town was under an evacuation order beginning at 7 p.m. Monday.
Public shelter was being made available in town.
RLF said Rock Creek and the West Fork of Rock Creek appeared to have crested and will soon see a reduction in flow and height. The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone was not expected to crest until around midnight Monday and was expected to rise another 12 to 18 inches before cresting.
The fire department said the Clarks Fork crest will be at a historic level of around 10.5 to 11 feet. The record high is 9.5 feet.
As visitors left the park, nearby communities unaffected by the flooding offered assistance in helping them find lodging and food.
Ryan Hauck said his organization has been receiving “dozens” of calls from people visiting Yellowstone now searching for a place to stay in Cody.
His organization sent out notifications on social media letting the public know his staff will help people with re-booking efforts. Yellowstone concessionaire Xanterra Travel Collection put out a similar notice letting people know PCTC is available.
To the south in Jackson, Teton County was providing camping space at its fairgrounds and state officials were working to provide shelters as needed for people who were removed from the park.
Monday afternoon, the park’s South, West and East gates remained open to allow visitors to leave, but Hauck said Sylvan Pass near the East Entrance may close soon due mudslides and other extreme conditions.
The North and Northwest entrances were already closed. Hauck said he received word from Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly the Park will be closed for the next two days before reopening on Thursday.