(NewsNation) — A total of 60 people had to be rescued by helicopter during historic flooding in Yellowstone National Park. The sudden floodwaters washed away hiking trails in Montana, leaving hikers stranded for two days before rescuers were able to reach them.
One of the men who had to be airlifted out joined NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” on Thursday to recap his experience.
“I mean, it was very surreal,” said Jacob Showers, who was rescued near Yellowstone. “It was just me and my girlfriend — we were up in the mountains planning to run for the day — and then when we tried to leave, the river had flooded the road. And then next day when we woke up, the road was completely gone,” he said.
The state of Montana issued a water emergency Thursday morning as all of the heavy rain and melting mountain snow has raised the Yellowstone River to historic levels, causing unprecedented flooding in Yellowstone National Park.
The natural disaster turned planes used for tourism into evacuation vehicles, as dozens of people staying in Gardiner, Montana had to be rescued by air as all exit points for the area had become impassable.
Trapped travelers were left frantically searching for ways to escape the Yellowstone area before efforts from multiple aircraft companies such as Ridgeland Aviation came to help.
“We had (a) little village of 60 people that were there and nerves hit for sure,” Showers said, describing his emotions after being told that one of the exit bridges was out of commission.
“When the helicopters arrived, we were having a meeting of how we were going to ration food and what we were going to do for the grill and eating time, because we were planning on staying up there for about a week or so. Luckily, the Army National Guard came sooner.”
Grayson Sperry is the president of Ridgeline. His team evacuated three groups Monday and two more groups Tuesday; they also transported supplies to the area.
“The hard part was trying to coordinate with people who were stranded,” Sperry said on “NewsNation.” ‘When everyone realized there was no easy way out, that’s when the problem intensified,” he continued.
Now, as a few roads are slowly reopening, a new problem is emerging: The city of Billings, Montana — and all 108,000 people there — are being asked to conserve water because the city was down to just a 24-to-36 hour supply after flooding forced the city to shut down its water treatment plant.
When the water does come back, it’ll be a long road ahead for businesses in and around Yellowstone.
Schalene Darr runs the Yellowstone Grill in Gardiner and was also temporarily trapped when floodwaters rose Monday. She says she’s happy to be safe but knows the small town’s economy has much work ahead of it.
“It’s kind of one of those things where we got to be creative at this point. How do we get people … back to Montana?” Darr said.
The good news for residents in both Gardiner and Billings is that the National Weather Service says the Yellowstone River fell below flood stage around 10:30 Mountain Time on Wednesday night and the water is expected to quickly recede throughout Thursday and into the weekend.