CODY, Wyo. — Some of Yellowstone National Park could reopen in a week or so, but northern sections of the park that sustained most of the damage from "catastrophic" flooding this week could take much longer, park officials said Tuesday.
All entrances to Yellowstone National Park were closed again Tuesday, a day after heavy rain caused flooding, mudslides and rockslides that wiped out roads and bridges. Park Superintendent Cam Sholly called it a "thousand-year event."
"The million-dollar question is, what’s the damage?" Sholly said Tuesday. "The answer is, we don’t know exactly yet."
The worst of the damage was in the northern part of the park, between the towns of Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana. The road between Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs was particularly hard-hit.
Inside the park, the northern area includes Mammoth Hot Springs, the Tower Falls area and the Lamar Valley.
The lower loop of the park – along with the west, south and east entrances – could reopen within a week, if it's safe to do so, with a timed-entry or reservation system. That would be necessary to reduce visitation with only half the park open. The lower loop includes Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake and Canyon Village.
The upper loop will take much longer to reopen, Sholly said.
Power was out in multiple places, and water and wastewater systems were damaged. Once the water recedes, teams will assess damage to park roads and other infrastructure. It's possible that the park's north entrance from Gardiner won't open again this season, he said.
"You can see by the pictures that [the damage] is extensive, but we won’t know what the timelines are until we get teams on the ground and can assess what happened and what it’s going to take to repair it," Sholly said.
> Below: Helicopter video provided by the National Park Service shows damage to the North Entrance road between Gardiner, Montana, and Mammoth Hot Springs.
More than 10,000 visitors were evacuated from the park Monday, and only a few hundred park employees remained there a day later. The closure included visitors with lodging and camping reservations, and those with permits in the backcountry.
As of Tuesday, 12 backcountry campers were still in the park and were safely making their way out, Sholly said.
No injuries were reported among visitors or staff from the flooding, he said.
As for the park's wildlife: "As of right now, we don’t think the animals are being largely affected except there are no visitors watching them," he said.
All roads leading to and from Gardiner, outside the north entrance, were closed for more than 24 hours. Crews got one road reopened Tuesday afternoon. The park was working with state officials to support residents, who were without water or power in some areas, Sholly said.
Cooke City, Montana, was also cut off from services. The town sits just outside the park's northeast corner and is only accessible by the park's Northeast Entrance Road, which was washed out.
Park County, Montana Commissioner Bill Berg was concerned for the economies of gateway towns like Gardiner and Cooke City once the floodwaters recede.
Gardiner "lives and dies by tourism, and this is going to be a pretty big hit," he said.
Additional rain was forecast for the region over the next few days, and there was a chance of more flooding, Sholly said.
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