Record flooding in the Yellowstone River drainage this week wrought havoc on roads, bridges and communities across south-central Montana. Here’s what Montana Free Press has been able to learn about the infrastructure damage.
This story was initially published June 14 and updated with more current information June 15.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
All park entrances and some roads in Yellowstone were temporarily closed Monday as a result of flooding and related damage. Park staff posted a video taken from a helicopter flight that showed extensive damage to the park’s North Entrance Road between Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs, including numerous washed out sections. The park also posted photos Monday showing damage to its northeast entrance road, which exits the park near Cooke City.
Heavy rain on top of deep snowpack resulted in “unprecedented” flooding in parts of southern Montana on Monday, forcing the evacuation and temporary closure of Yellowstone National Park.
Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said at a Tuesday press briefing that it’s unlikely the park’s northern roads will be re-opened this year, but that he hopes to re-open the park’s southern loop and its west, southern and eastern entrances this season. He also said it won’t be possible to know when the park will be able to re-open until flood waters recede further and park staff are able more thoroughly assess the damage.
Sholly also said it may not be possible to rebuild the Mammoth-Gardiner road in the same location, nor necessarily wise given the potential for future flood damage.
“We are looking at pulling the road away from the river and putting it on a completely different alignment,” he said.
Gardiner, Cooke City, Paradise Valley, Livingston
Flooding along the main branch of the Yellowstone River downstream from the park also devastated roads and bridges through the Paradise Valley and inundated portions of Livingston.
Park County officials said Wednesday that efforts to repair damaged roadways are underway and that road access has been restored to Gardiner and Cooke City. They also said that U.S. Highway 89 between Livingston and Gardiner has been reopened to local and emergency traffic. They said most bridges crossing the Yellowstone River are safe to use, with the exception of Carters Bridge, Corwin Springs and Carbella Bridge.
Historic flooding of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries overwhelmed social media Monday and Tuesday of this week, as eyewitnesses and agencies posted drone and phone footage of rising waters, washed-out roadways, inundated towns, and bridges and homes swept away by torrential currents. Montana Free Press is compiling a collection of these videos as they…
Public Information Officer Whitney Bermes also said Wednesday afternoon that Point of Rocks bridge over the Yellowstone on U.S. 89 is closed, with traffic detoured onto an alternative route that crosses the river near Emigrant.
Among the area’s infrastructure casualties was the Carbella Bridge, a steel truss bridge off U.S. Highway 89 at Tom Miner Basin. A video circulating on Twitter showed the bridge being swept away by the raging river.
Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras signed a declaration of disaster due to flooding in southern Montana in the absence of Gov. Greg Gianforte, who is out of the country.
Low temperatures and persistent precipitation combined with an unusually high June snowpack to set the stage for historic flooding in southwest and south-central Montana June 13. At least five rivers in Park, Carbon and Stillwater counties set all-time records for high flows, wiping out bridges and roads and sending entire buildings downstream.
SWEET GRASS COUNTY
As of Tuesday, several roads in Sweet Grass County were closed as a result of flooding, including Highway 191, which crosses the Yellowstone River as it runs north from Big Timber to Harlowton.
Absarokee, Nye, Fishtail, Columbus
Flooding along the Stillwater River forced evacuations Monday and caused damage from Nye to Absarokee.
Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services said in a Facebook post early Monday afternoon that five bridges in the county were “out or closed.” The agency also said that emergency services agencies and the Stillwater Mine had rescued 68 people and as many as 16 dogs from the Woodbine Campground area, ferrying them to safety by raft.
“Everyone in the affected flood path is accounted for, to the best of our knowledge,” the agency wrote. “We will be assessing the loss of homes and structures when the waters recede.”
The Stillwater County News reported Tuesday that operations had been suspended at the Sibanye-Stillwater platinum mine after bridges were damaged and the road between the mine and Nye was washed out.
- Stillwater County News Facebook page
- Stillwater County incidents web page
- Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services Facebook page
- Stillwater County Search and Rescue Facebook page
Red Lodge, Roscoe, Fromberg
Flooding from Rock Creek had portions of Red Lodge underwater Monday, damaging bridges and threatening to erode the running track at Red Lodge High School.
“We’ve had a number of bridges that have been breached or completely wiped out,” Red Lodge Fire Chief Tom Kuntz said in a video briefing posted at 4 a.m. Tuesday morning.
The Carbon County Sheriff’s Office also said Monday that Highway 78 had been closed as a result of structural damage to the bridge at Roscoe.
- Carbon Alert county emergency communications Facebook page
- Carbon County News Facebook page
- Carbon County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page
The city of Billings said Wednesday that flooding had forced it to shut down its drinking water treatment plant late Tuesday night. It said the city had enough stored water to cover supply for a day to a day and a half, and asked residents to conserve water by refraining from watering lawns or gardens using city water.
MTFP will update this story as more information becomes available. Contact reporter Eric Dietrich with questions, comments or additional information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arren Kimbel-Sannit contributed reporting.
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