Yellowstone National Park floods cause damage, road closures "Unprecedented" floods wash out bridges, basements, and roads, close hospital

Yellowstone-area floods strand visitors and residents, prompt evacuations

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The flood waters in and around Yellowstone National Park are receding some today. And several thousand people who have been stranded in the gateway town of Gardiner, Mont., are now able to begin evacuating. But as NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, there are warnings that more flooding could return by the weekend.

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KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Aerial footage shows the muddy and swollen Yellowstone River wiping out sections of Highway 89. In this video posted by NBC News, a large house slides off the cliff bank and crashes into the waves.

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SIEGLER: The massive building bobbles downstream like a houseboat. No one was in it. But, mostly intact, there's concern it could wipe out bridges downriver.

PARKER MANNING: It's been insane, yes. We watched the house fall in.

SIEGLER: Parker Manning and his family, visiting from Indiana, have been watching the river nervously from their vacation rental in Gardiner.

MANNING: It's moving at such a fast pace. There's some ground on the embankments, about an eighth of a mile down, that's sloughing off and constantly falling into the river.

SIEGLER: Gardiner, population 900 and home to Yellowstone's famous Gateway Arch, dedicated by Theodore Roosevelt, is one of the park's busiest entrances. Rebecca Demaree and her husband own the town's only grocery store, which has been packed with shoppers.

REBECCA DEMAREE: Obviously, our truck last night couldn't get through. We get bread deliveries twice a week. We couldn't get that. We get milk and eggs twice a week. That didn't come this morning.

SIEGLER: They had anticipated supply chain problems anyway, so they do have a stockpile of bottled water. There has been a boil order in Gardiner due to flood damage. Emergency deliveries should resume today, but access in and out of town remains limited. And the park superintendent expects the northern half of Yellowstone to be closed for a substantial period, which is bad news for gateway towns.

DEMAREE: I think at this point we're just trying to take it hour by hour, but it's going to be a very different year than what we expected, I think.

SIEGLER: Fifty miles away, in Livingston, Mont., the hospital had to be evacuated. Several structures are destroyed, according to the Park County sheriff. The National Guard has rescued at least a dozen stranded people by helicopter. Now, this is just the latest major disaster to hit the West in recent weeks, from large wildfires in the Southwest to now extraordinary rainfall and flooding in the Northwest. Scientists are hesitant to pinpoint any one event on climate change, but they do say erratic swings in the weather are expected as the climate warms. For now, stranded people like Amanda Wilson from Georgia are just relieved that they're safe.

AMANDA WILSON: It's like my husband and I said - we're safe, we have food, we have water, we have a place to stay, and that's the main thing.

SIEGLER: Until word came that the highway leaving Gardiner would reopen, Wilson had been trying to figure out what to do about her elderly father, who has enough insulin to last through Saturday. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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