FROMBERG, Mont. (AP) — As officials scramble to reopen Yellowstone National Park to tourists after record floods ravaged southern Montana, some of those hardest hit by the disaster are living far from the famed park’s limelight and supporting heavy on each other to pull their lives out of the dirt.
In and around the farming community of Fromberg, the Clarks Fork River flooded nearly 100 homes and severely damaged a large irrigation ditch that supplies many farms. The city’s mayor says about a third of the flooded homes are too far away to repair.
Not far from the riverbank, 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 have turned up to inspect the damage at Red Lodge and Gardiner — tourist towns in Montana that serve as gateways to Yellowstone — didn’t make it to Fromberg to see its devastation. O’Brien said the lack of attention comes as no surprise given the city’s location off the main tourist routes.
She said she wasn’t upset but had come to terms with the fact that if Fromberg is to recover, the 400 or so 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-encrusted items strewn around their property. O’Brien, an art teacher at the local school, had renovated her parents’ house in hopes of turning it into a vacation home. Now she is not sure if it can still be saved.
“If you get tired and poop, it’s okay to stop,” O’Brien told Murter and Rogers, whose clothes, hands and faces were smeared with mud.
Yellowstone will partially reopen at 8 a.m. Wednesday, more than a week after more than 10,000 visitors were forced from the park when the Yellowstone and other rivers burst their banks after swollen by snowmelt and several inches of rain.
But the northern half of the nation’s oldest national park, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, is expected to remain closed throughout the summer, if not longer, along with one of the park’s main entrances through Montana. The closure will prevent visitors from seeing Tower Fall and Lamar Valley, one of the best places in the world to see wolves and grizzly bears.
Meanwhile, outside of the population centers bordering the park, there is a maze of damaged roads. A key bridge leading to the town of Fishtail collapsed, diverting traffic onto a single lane county road. There are about 500 people in Fishtail.
Lee Johnson and his wife and daughter run MontAsia Restaurant, so named because it is a fusion of Malaysian and Montana cuisine. He said business has plummeted.
“When we first opened after the flood, it just started dead. And that’s where this feeling of fear creeps in. Have I done all this, have I invested all this money, have I started this business and people can’t even come here anymore? said Johnson.
Johnson and his Malaysian wife Yokie took over the lease on a landmark 124-year-old fishtail building earlier this year and relocated their restaurant from another part of the state. For Yokie, the deal was a dream come true.
“Not being from Montana, I wanted to own something,” she said. Going into business with her family was her biggest goal. Yokie said that running the restaurant gives her strength as she battles cancer.
“I’m not sure how much time I have left, so I want what time I have left to be with my family, to work with them every day, to see them every day,” she said.
Johnson said he was humbled at the chance to support his wife and determined to keep the restaurant open while the flood damage is repaired.
“You hitch your wagon to this community and it’s just about keeping up,” he said.
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