YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK -- Brandon and Cassie Tyson wanted to get in one more trip before welcoming a baby girl into the world. But their Yellowstone National Park babymoon, much like some aspects of parenthood, did not go according to plan.
The Cumberland County couple had to be airlifted to safety after record floodwaters knocked out roads and bridges in Montana and Wyoming and forced the closure of all entrances to the park.
Cassie, who is 32 weeks pregnant, and Brandon were staying in Gardiner, Montana for the last day of their trip.
They first learned something was wrong when they woke up Monday, June 13, and were told not to drink the water at their hotel.
So they went out to breakfast where the situation worsened.
"This guy comes in...and he goes, 'Well, all the roads are closed. So, whoever planned on going out here or something, it's not going to happen," Cassie Tyson said. "I thought he was joking...He said, 'No one's getting out of here. The roads on both sides are completely shut down. There's water over them and they're caved in. There's no way out of here. There's no telling on how long it'll be.'"
The couple had already checked out of their hotel and worried about getting stranded.
"We've already packed the car up and we're ready to move forward to Bozeman. And at that point, we have nowhere to go," Brandon Tyson said. "We called around to several hotels and motels and no vacancies available. So at that point, we were kind of freaking out."
Fortunately, the mom-to-be has a mother of her own, Carole Martin, who came to the couple's rescue.
"She's like, 'I'm going to figure this out. I will get you all out of there," Cassie said when describing her panicked call home. "And then next thing you know, she calls back and she's like, 'how much luggage do y'all have with y'all, how much do y'all weigh?' and we were seriously like, 'did she just ordered a helicopter to come get us?'"
Of course, she did!
Less than an hour later, a helicopter arrived to fly the Tysons to safety.
"I don't know what I would have done if [my mom] hadn't helped us like she did," Cassie said. "We're just thinking about people who are still there with families and medical emergencies."
The Tysons added they were also grateful for the help and support they received from their social media posts and from the locals, the latter including one staff member at a hotel they were able to check into with plans of riding out the isolation — who then helped them get them to the helicopter and assist with issues they faced with their rental car.
"He was awesome. He didn't even know us from Adam and he was willing to go the extra mile to do whatever it took to get us out of there," said Cassie. "Our families and prayers and Facebook... social media was awesome. Random people, we didn't even know we're messaging us, like, 'We know people there if you need anything.'"
The Tysons said they encourage people to go back to Yellowstone once the flooding issues have been fixed and help keep the local economy going.
And as they wait for the arrival of their daughter, the family is suggesting they take inspiration from the trip and consider Wyoming or Montana.
"We have a really good story to tell to our daughter and it's definitely a baby moon that we'll never forget, for sure," said Brandon.
Elsewhere in Yellowstone
Communities bordering Yellowstone National Park remained isolated and tourists stranded on Tuesday. While numerous homes and other structures were destroyed, there were no immediate reports of injuries. Yellowstone officials said they were assessing damage from the storms, which washed away bridges, caused mudslides and forced evacuations by boat and helicopter.
It’s unclear how many visitors are stranded or have been forced to leave the park and how many people who live outside the park have been rescued and evacuated.
Some of the worst damage happened in the northern part of the park and Yellowstone’s gateway communities in southern Montana. National Park Service photos of northern Yellowstone showed a mudslide, washed-out bridges and roads undercut by churning floodwaters of the Gardner and Lamar rivers.
The flooding cut off road access to Gardiner, Montana, a town of about 900 people near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Gardner rivers, just outside Yellowstone's busy North Entrance. Cooke City was also isolated by floodwaters and evacuations were also issued for residents in Livingston.
Officials in Park County, which encompasses those cities, said on Facebook Monday evening that extensive flooding throughout the county had made drinking water unsafe in many areas. Evacuations and rescues were ongoing and officials urged people who were in a safe place to stay put overnight.
The Montana National Guard said Monday it sent two helicopters to southern Montana to help with the evacuations.
Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana, said rain is not in the immediate forecast, and cooler temperatures will lessen the snowmelt in the coming days.
"This is flooding that we’ve just never seen in our lifetimes before,” Mottice said.
Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme events such as storms, droughts, floods and wildfires, although single weather events usually cannot be directly linked to climate change without extensive study.
The Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs crested at 13.88 feet (4.2 meters) Monday, higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) set in 1918, according to the National Weather Service.
At a cabin in Gardiner, Parker Manning got an up-close view of the water rising and the river bank sloughing off in the raging Yellowstone River floodwaters just outside his door.
“We started seeing entire trees floating down the river, debris,” Manning, who is from Terra Haute, Indiana, told The Associated Press. “Saw one crazy single kayaker coming down through, which was kind of insane.”
On Monday evening, Manning watched as the rushing waters undercut the opposite riverbank, causing a house to fall into the Yellowstone River and float away mostly intact.
Floodwaters inundated a street in Red Lodge, a Montana town of 2,100 that’s a popular jumping-off point for a scenic, winding route into the Yellowstone high country. Twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) to the northeast, in Joliet, Kristan Apodaca wiped away tears as she stood across the street from a washed-out bridge, The Billings Gazette reported.
The log cabin that belonged to her grandmother, who died in March, flooded, as did the park where Apodaca’s husband proposed.
“I am sixth-generation. This is our home,” she said. “That bridge I literally drove yesterday. My mom drove it at 3 a.m. before it was washed out.”
On Monday, Yellowstone officials evacuated the northern part of the park, where roads may remain impassable for a substantial length of time, park Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.
But the flooding affected the rest of the park, too, with park officials warning of yet higher flooding and potential problems with water supplies and wastewater systems at developed areas.
Yellowstone got 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of rain Saturday, Sunday and into Monday. The Beartooth Mountains northeast of Yellowstone got as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters), according to the National Weather Service.
In south-central Montana, flooding on the Stillwater River stranded 68 people at a campground. Stillwater County Emergency Services agencies and crews with the Stillwater Mine rescued people Monday from the Woodbine Campground by raft. Some roads in the area are closed because of flooding and residents have been evacuated.
“We will be assessing the loss of homes and structures when the waters recede,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
The flooding happened while other parts of the U.S. burned in hot and dry weather. More than 100 million Americans were being warned to stay indoors as a heat wave settles over states stretching through parts of the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas.
Elsewhere in the West, crews from California to New Mexico are battling wildfires in hot, dry and windy weather.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.