Authorities help with evacuation; law enforcement focuses on opening roads, aiding displaced by Yellowstone flood


CASPER — Law enforcement around Yellowstone National Park are focused on opening roads and helping people evacuate from the park as unprecedented flooding continues in the area Tuesday. 

Officers in Park County, Montana, were working Tuesday to open the section of Highway 89 between Gardiner and Livingston by mid-day. 

Sheriff’s spokesperson Whitney Bermes said the stretch will mainly be used for emergency services and to get people away from the park. Besides opening the road, Bermes said the sheriff’s office has been working to provide aid to locals and others displaced to Gardiner. 

Power in the town went out Monday afternoon and had not been restored as of Tuesday. 

Gardiner was also placed under a “do not drink” water order after a water main broke in the area, which was updated to a “boil water advisory” later Tuesday. 

Bermes said a roughly 25-person county assist team that includes state and local personnel has also been called in to help out first responders near the park. 

At a press conference Tuesday, Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler said his office had completed around a dozen rescues, including two air rescues, since the flooding began. Bichler also said local authorities turned their focus Tuesday to getting non-locals out of Gardiner and clearing roadways for essential services. 

“On the Gallatin County side, they’re trying to get people to go to Idaho,” Bermes said. “In Bozeman, it’s already hard enough to get a hotel room.” 

Since the northern part of the park has been most heavily affected by the flooding, officials urged people to evacuate through its west and south entrances if possible. 

Most visitors had departed by the time the park’s top official led a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Cody Beers with the Wyoming Department of Transportation said Tuesday that roads on the Wyoming side of the park haven’t been too backed up from evacuation traffic so far. 

A Wyoming Highway Patrol lieutenant in the area was helping follow up on reports of people stranded in the park Monday, though spokesperson Jeremy Beck said Tuesday he wasn’t sure whether any of those reports warranted a rescue. 

Rich Ochs, emergency management coordinator for Wyoming’s Teton County, said that around half of visitors in the park had been evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon. The rest, concentrated in the southern end, were expected to be evacuated later Tuesday. 

Most evacuees went north, Ochs said, though some camped in tents or RVs at the Teton County fairgrounds on Monday night. 

Thankfully, Ochs said, Jackson and other Yellowstone gateway towns are set up to receive large influxes of people during the tourist season. 

And, he said, it’s lucky that the flood is taking place outside Yellowstone’s summer peak, which is closer to the Fourth of July. 

As of Tuesday morning, Ochs said he’d heard that lodging in Jackson was at just 38-percent capacity. 

While visitors began evacuating on Monday, Ochs said it’s important to note that the park hasn’t yet moved to evacuate its employees from worker housing inside. 

“If they evacuate employees, that changes the situation to a little more of a sheltering operation,” he said, “as opposed to just finding parking for the night.” 

In Wyoming, WYDOT crews spent several hours Monday night clearing debris from three bridges near the park — two on Wyoming Highway 120 north of Cody and another on Wyoming 296 near Crandall Road. The bridges themselves don’t appear to be damaged, Beers said, but high waters had washed dead trees and other felled foliage onto the bridge before the water level fell “a couple feet” on Tuesday. 

The Montana National Guard rescued 12 people stranded by the flood Monday, using a pair of helicopters. It was continuing to help with search and rescue procedures through Tuesday. 

Deputies from Wyoming’s Park County Sheriff’s Office also assisted with search and rescue efforts near Cooke City in Montana on Monday, spokesperson Charla Baugher-Torczon said. 

An ongoing search for missing man Lance Daghy, which began Jun 9, was suspended two days later in response to high water levels in the area. 

Wyoming Army National Guard’s Major Jacque Morey said the state’s military is communicating with the governor’s office and the state’s office of homeland security to see if guardsmen are needed to bring supplies or manpower.

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