Flooded towns outside of Yellowstone struggle to recover

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FIX SPELLING OF NAME TO HARLEE INSTEAD OF HARLEY – Harlee Holmes, 8, right, helps her brother Creek, 3, into his shoes as the family packs to leave their home which was damaged by severe flooding in Fromberg, Mont., Friday, June 17, 2022. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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As Yellowstone National Park pushes to reopen to tourists faster than expected after record flooding in southern Montana, some of those hardest hit by the disaster are living far from the famed park’s spotlight and leaning heavily on each other. others to get their lives out of the mud.

Park officials said Sunday they hope most of Yellowstone will be open within two weeks as they use a $50 million infusion of federal highway money to speed up repairs to roads and bridges. . There is still no timetable for restoring connections between the park and neighboring parts of Montana where the recovery is expected to stretch for months.

In and around the farming community of Fromberg, the Clarks Fork River flooded nearly 100 homes and severely damaged a major irrigation ditch that serves many farms. The town’s mayor says about a third of flooded homes are too far away to repair.

Not far from the shore, Lindi O’Brien’s trailer was raised high enough to avoid major damage. But she got water in her barns and sheds, lost some of her poultry and saw her recently deceased parents’ house flooded with several feet of water.

Elected officials who showed up to tour the damage in Red Lodge and Gardiner — tourist towns in Montana that serve as gateways to Yellowstone — did not travel to Fromberg to see its devastation. O’Brien said the lack of attention comes as no surprise given the city’s location away from major tourist routes.

She holds no grudges but has resigned herself to the idea that if Fromberg is going to recover, its roughly 400 residents will have to do much of the work themselves.

“We take care of each other,” O’Brien said as she and two longtime friends, Melody Murter and Aileen Rogers, combed through mud-covered items strewn across her property. O’Brien, an art teacher at the local school, had been fixing up her parents’ house in hopes of making it a vacation rental, but she’s no longer sure it’s salvageable.

“When you’re tired and you poop, you can stop,” O’Brien told Murter and Rogers, whose clothes, hands and face were smeared with mud.

A few blocks away, Matt Holmes combed through piles of mud and debris, but couldn’t find much to salvage from the trailer he shared with his wife and four children.

Holmes had taken the day off but said he needed to return to his construction job soon so he could start earning money again. We don’t know if it can yield enough to rebuild. Otherwise, Holmes said he could move the family to Louisiana, where they have relatives.

“I want to stay in Montana. I don’t know if we can,” he said.

Yellowstone will partially reopen at 8 a.m. Wednesday, more than a week after more than 10,000 visitors were evicted from the park when the Yellowstone and other rivers breached their banks after being swollen by melting snow and several centimeters of rain.

Only parts of the park accessible by its “southern loop” of roads will initially be open, and access to the park’s scenic backcountry will be restricted to day hikers.

Within two weeks, officials hope to open the North Loop, after previously saying it would likely remain closed during the summer season. The North Loop would allow visitors access to popular attractions such as Tower Fall and Mammoth Hot Springs. They would still be excluded from the Lamar Valley, famous for its prolific wildlife, including bears, wolves and bison that can often be seen from the side of the road.

“It would restore 75 to 80 percent of the park to working order,” National Park Service Superintendent Charles “Chuck” Sams said Sunday during a visit to Yellowstone to assess the effects of the flooding.

It will take much longer – possibly years – to fully restore two badly damaged stretches of road that connect the park to Gardiner to the north and Cooke City to the northeast.

During a tour of the damaged areas on Sunday, park officials showed reporters one of six stretches of road near Gardiner where the raging Gardner River had obliterated most of the pavement. Muddy water is now flowing where the rig was only a week ago. Towering tree trunks litter the surrounding canyon walls.

Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said 20,000 tonnes of material was being hauled in to build a temporary alternate route along an old road that passes over the canyon so that employees who work at park headquarters in Mammoth can go to their home in Gardiner.

Meanwhile, outside the population centers that border the park, there is a maze of damaged roads that have cut off remote areas. A key bridge that leads to the town of Fishtail has collapsed causing traffic to be diverted to a single lane county road. There are about 500 people at Fishtail.

Lee Johnson and his wife and daughter run Fishtail Restaurant MontAsia, so named because it is a fusion of Malaysian and Montana cuisine. He said business had plummeted.

“When we first opened after the flood, it just started dead. And you start to get this feeling of dread. Did I do all this, did I invest all this money, did I throw this business and people can’t even come here anymore,” says Johnson.

Johnson and his Malaysian wife Yokie took over the lease of a historic 124-year-old Fishtail building earlier this year, moving their restaurant from another part of the state. For Yokie, the business was a dream come true.

“Not being from Montana, I wanted to own something,” she said. Going into business with his family was his biggest goal. Yokie said running the restaurant gave her strength as she battled cancer.

“I don’t know how much time I have left, so the time I have left, I want to be with my family, working with them every day, seeing them every day,” she said.

Johnson said he was honored to have the chance to support his wife and determined to keep the restaurant open while the flood damage was repaired.

“You hitch your wagon to this community and it’s just a matter of following,” he said.

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