BILLINS, Mont. – Montana’s largest city restarted its hydropower plant on Thursday after shutting it down amid record floods that have caused widespread damage to Yellowstone National Park and surrounding communities.
Meanwhile, residents of the devastated areas have cleared up the mess and prepared for the economic consequences, while the park remains closed in the height of the tourist season. President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in Montana, ordering federal aid.
The city of Billings has asked residents to save water, as it was limited when the Yellowstone River reached record highs and caused the closure of the treatment plant.
“We know that yesterday’s signal to the community caused panic. That has never been our hope, “city officials said in a statement Thursday. “We have never witnessed a situation like the one we saw yesterday … we did not know how bad it could be or how long it would last.
The floods continued to flow downstream and were expected to reach Miles City in eastern Montana by Friday morning. Local authorities said the low-lying areas of the river could be flooded, but there is no immediate risk to the city of more than 8,000 people.
Officials asked Billings residents on Wednesday to save water as it was reduced to 24 to 36 hours after a combination of heavy rain and fast-melting mountain snow lifted the Yellowstone River to historic levels, forcing them to close the plant.
“None of us planned a 500-year flood in Yellowstone when we designed these facilities,” said Debbie Melling, the city’s director of public affairs.
The 110,000-strong city stopped watering parks and boulevards, and the fire department filled its trucks with river water.
Normal operations resumed on Thursday after the river level began to fall. On Wednesday, it rose more than a foot (30 centimeters) above the previous record peak in Billings in 1997.
An unprecedented and sudden flood earlier this week drove all but a dozen of more than 10,000 visitors from the country’s oldest park.
Remarkably, no one has been injured or killed by raging waters that have knocked homes off their foundations and pushed a river off course – probably permanently – and may require repairing damaged roads to a safer distance.
The Montana National Guard on Wednesday rescued 87 people from small towns and a campsite affected by the floods. It says its troops have been stationed at road checkpoints near Red Lodge, Montana, a town at the northern end of the park, and set up a command center there to help coordinate search operations. and rescue.
Yellowstone officials hope to reopen the southern half of the park next week, which includes the Old Faithful Geyser. Park officials say the northern half of the park, however, is likely to remain closed all summer, a devastating blow to local economies that rely on tourism.
Closing the northern part of the park will protect visitors from features that include Tower Fall, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley, which is known for wildlife such as bears and wolves.
On Wednesday, Red Lodge residents used shovels, carts and a pump to clear thick mud and debris from a flooded home on the shores of Rock Creek.
“We thought we had it, and then a bridge came out. And he diverted the river and the water started rolling from behind, smashed the basement window and started filling my basement, “said Pat Ruzic. “And then I gave up. It’s as if the water has won. “
Although flooding in Yellowstone is rare, it is the type of event that is becoming more common as the planet warms, experts said.
“We know for a fact that climate change is causing more natural disasters, more fires, bigger fires and more floods and bigger floods,” said Robert Manning, a retired professor of environment and natural resources at the University of Vermont. These things are going to happen, and they’re probably going to happen a lot more intensely. “
Montana Gov. Gianforte, a Republican governor, has faced criticism from Democrats and members of the public for being out of the country at the time of the disaster.
“Before the floods in southern Montana began, Governor Gianforte left the country late last week on a long-term personal trip with the First Lady,” Governor’s spokesman Brooke Stroke said in a statement Wednesday. “He’s coming back early and as soon as possible.”
The statement did not say where the governor was. Montana Gov. Kristen Juras signed a state of emergency declaration Tuesday, and she met with FEMA Administrator Dean Criswell and government staff for disaster and emergency services at the Red Lodge on Thursday.
The rains hit just as hotels around Yellowstone have filled with summer tourists in recent weeks. More than 4 million visitors reported from the park last year. The wave of tourists does not subside until autumn, and June is usually one of the busiest months in Yellowstone.
The season started well for Kara McGarry, who leads groups through the Lamar Valley to see wolves, bison, moose and bears. She had seen more than 20 grizzlies in a few days this year.
Now that the road from Gardiner to North Yellowstone is blurred, wildlife is still there, but out of McGary’s reach, and her In Our Nature tour guide is suddenly in trouble.
“The summer we have been preparing for is not at all like the summer we will have,” she said. “That’s an 80% to 100% loss of business during the high season.”
Flying Pig Adventures, a Gardiner-based business that runs rafting trips on the Yellowstone River, will have to rely more on tourists staying in Montana now that roads to the park are impassable, co-owner Patrick Sip said on Wednesday.
This is a blow that is no different than how COVID-19 temporarily closed Yellowstone two years ago, reducing tourist visits to the park in June 2020 by about a third before they recovered for the rest of the summer.
“We are definitely a sustainable company, we have a very difficult crew,” Sip said. “It simply came to our notice then. You just hate to see things like that in the community. We just hope we can get back there relatively soon. ”
Meanwhile, as the waters recede, park officials are turning their attention to the enormous effort to rebuild many miles of ruined roads and possibly hundreds of washed-out bridges, many of which were built for tourists. Yellowstone superintendent Kam Sholi said assessment teams would not be able to calculate the damage until next week.
Kelly Gunan, an associate professor at the University of Southern Utah and an expert on national park and recreation management, said the recovery would be a long process.
“This is something that we will definitely feel the impact of in the next few years,” Gunan said.
Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writers Amy Beth Hanson of Helena, Mead Grover of Cheyenne, Wyoming and Brian Mellie of Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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The Yellowstone Floods are rising through eastern Montana
Source link The Yellowstone Floods are rising through eastern Montana