Unbelievable images and videos are coming from Yellowstone National Park and southern Montana this week, as huge flooding tore away hillsides, roads and even the foundations of homes.
Rivers were swiftly moving far above their banks, and all entrances to the national park were closed. News reports outline some of the extensive flooding that washed out roads and bridges, knocked out power, left communities isolated and made drinking water unsafe in some areas.
The Church News reached out to bishops, branch presidents and stake presidents who serve in the areas around the large national park, encompassing parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
The Bozeman Montana Stake includes Gardiner Branch, where Church members living in towns near Yellowstone’s north entrance would attend. Gardiner Branch President Jay Bair said the flooding has affected them — the area became isolated and surrounded by water. But Stake President Jaeson Repscher responded to a Church News inquiry saying that the members are doing OK.
Matt Johnson, who is a high councilor in the Bozemon Montana Stake and the stake Young Men’s president, lives in Livingston and was on his way to Yellowstone with a coworker and another Church member, Mike Petry, when the flooding intensified and they got stuck in Gardiner.
“We literally got trapped there,” Johnson said. They went to the Church meetinghouse and started working with the stake presidency to prepare the building and property for evacuated visitors or residents who needed the space.He is a contractor by trade, and works with the fire department, so he had connections in the community and started working with county authorities right away. The Gilbert family, who are also Church members and restaurant owners, also joined in the efforts.
“That’s what we are good at as a Church, is integrating ourselves pretty quickly in offering resources and lending a hand. The process makes sense because that’s what we talk about and that’s what we are trained to do,” said Johnson.
Johnson said just the day before, on Sunday, June 12, stake leadership and bishoprics had held a training on emergency preparedness. It had been scheduled long before the storms began — “It was absolutely God’s hand directing those that needed that training to be there and be a part of it.”
On Tuesday afternoon, as Johnson and Petry and others were doing head counts of those affected, they got word that the main road between Gardiner and Livingston had been cleared and re-opened. People quickly evacuated, just in case more storms and flooding came. Livingston lost many bridges and homes, and farms and ranches are under water.
Now Johnson says authorities are working on making sure people in the community get fresh water and have what they need in the short-term, as long-term repairs and disaster response begin.
The town of Red Lodge is near the northeast entrance to the park. Bishop Jeffrey Oliphant, of the Red Lodge Ward in the Billings Montana South Stake, spoke to the Church News over the phone as he was working to hook up a generator for power.
He said some members of the ward have been landlocked, including one who lives on the Clarks Fork River. Rock Creek River goes through the town of Red Lodge, the river could be heard roaring through the phone.
“We’ve been pretty lucky,” Bishop Oliphant said. The ward building is in good shape, although it is now cut off from the rest of the resort town because of all the damage to the road.
The rushing water filled parts of Broadway Avenue at one point, which is the main road through the town and leads to Yellowstone National Park.
Rising water levels flooded homes, washed out a bridge and eroded sections of streets. Trees were down across the area and bulldozers and other heavy equipment were moving through Tuesday evening.
A lot of assessing damages to infrastructure still needs to be done, said Bishop Oliphant, then repairs and cleanup will take a long time.