Historic flooding displaces people, destroys roads and property

By 
Jaci Webb Outlook Assistant Editor
Thursday, June 16, 2022
The Yellowstone River at Laurel nears the bottom of the railroad and highway bridges immediately south of Laurel on June 14. The river reached above the 2011 flood levels early Tuesday and had reached just above the 15 foot level at 5 p.m., which the U.S. Geological Survey shows was the high in 1997. Photo courtesy of Ed Saunders

The Yellowstone River at Laurel nears the bottom of the railroad and highway bridges immediately south of Laurel on June 14. The river reached above the 2011 flood levels early Tuesday and had reached just above the 15 foot level at 5 p.m., which the U.S. Geological Survey shows was the high in 1997. Photo courtesy of Ed Saunders

At the southern end of Allendale Rd., the cabs of trucks can be seen sticking out of the flooded Yellowstone River water on Tuesday. Outlook photo by Kathleen Gilluly

At the southern end of Allendale Rd., the cabs of trucks can be seen sticking out of the flooded Yellowstone River water on Tuesday. Outlook photo by Kathleen Gilluly

A historic flood that saw evacuations, damaged property, road closures and destroyed bridges prompted Gov. Greg Gianforte to declare a statewide disaster Tuesday.

Heavy rains melted the deep snowpack in the Beartooth Mountains sending a deluge of water into the Yellowstone River and its tributaries Sunday night and Monday. Roads were swept away, people became stranded in Gardiner and Cooke City, and Yellowstone National Park closed all five entrances.

Along the lower Yellowstone River, there was a lot of nervousness throughout the day Tuesday, waiting for the river to crest. Wednesday morning, the Yellowstone River in Billings topped 16-feet, above the level of water during the 2011 flood when it crested at 14.37 feet. The Yellowstone River in Billings on Wednesday was running at 84,200 cubic feet per second, way beyond the cfs levels in 2011 and 1997 when there was flooding.

Several roads in Yellowstone County joined the road closures in Park, Stillwater and Carbon counties. In Laurel, Byam Road was closed, and Thiel Road, previously closed has reopened. City and county parks, recreation areas and fishing accesses were also closed along the Yellowstone River.

Although property damage was extreme and travel limited, as of Tuesday afternoon there were no reports of injuries or deaths due to the flooding. The Stillwater County Sheriff’s Department reported that Stillwater Emergency Services agencies and Stillwater Mine rescued 68 people and 16 dogs from Woodbine Campground and the surrounding area on Monday. They were ferried through the water by raft and transported to the Anipro Arena by shuttle bus.

“Everyone in the affected flood path is accounted for, to the best of our knowledge,” the Stillwater Sheriff’s report stated. “We will be assessing the loss of homes and structures when the waters recede.”

The report also noted that 247 calls went out through Code Red. Evacuation shelters are set up at Fromberg School, Bridger School and the Red Lodge Fairgrounds.

The Montana National Guard is assisting with search and res cue operations, using military helicopters with hoist capability. The first helicopter rescued two people Monday in Roscoe and another two in Fromberg. The second helicopter recovered eight people in Cooke City. On

Tuesday, they were dispatched to help rescue people in the area of East Rosebud Lake. Soldiers are also being sent to Red Lodge to set up a command center to help coordinate further search and rescue activity.

The Red Cross is set up in Bridger to assist.

Affecting Laurel residents, the Cove Ditch washed out of its banks on Monday, closing down a section of Highway 10 between Park City and Columbus at mile marker 10. Until repairs to the ditch can be made, the Cove Ditch has no water in it as it reached Laurel.

For those worried about protecting their homes from water, sandbags are available in Laurel at the Fire Department. Riverside Park was closed on Monday and campers there were asked to leave. Sportsman’s Park was also closed.

Meanwhile, some local businesses, including Cajun Phatty’s opened up to serve dinner to evacuees in Bridger on Wednesday, breakfast, lunch and dinner on Thursday, and breakfast and lunch on Friday. A man from Bozeman arrived in Bridger with pickup load of water.

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