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Mooresville family trapped in Montana as flooding rages

Kathleen Saunders left Mooresville last Thursday and flew to Rapid City, South Dakota, for a multi-day road trip across the American West.

Mooresville residents Adam, Oliva and Kathleen Saunders (left to right) were traveling to Yellowstone National Park when nearby flooding trapped the family in Gardiner, Montana. They received word Tuesday that flood waters had receded enough for the family to evacuate the area.
Kathleen Saunders
Mooresville residents Adam, Oliva and Kathleen Saunders (left to right) were traveling to Yellowstone National Park when nearby flooding trapped the family in Gardiner, Montana.

With her husband, daughter, and in-laws, they were going on a trip to help her mother-in-law make progress on one of her life goals: visiting all 50 states. They drove to South Dakota, North Dakota and then they ventured into Montana.

In Gardiner, Montana, they were loading up their car Monday before heading to Yellowstone National Park when their trip took an unexpected turn.

“When we got up to leave Monday morning for our trip through Yellowstone, we found out all the roads were blocked,” Saunders told WFAE through Facebook Messenger.

Another traveler told them that intense flooding in the area had closed the roads into Yellowstone and out of Gardiner, Saunders said. They checked with their hotel's front desk, which confirmed that they were not going to be able to continue their trip as planned.

“They told us it could be as little as four hours to 24 hours and we’d be on our way,” Saunders said. “We just figured we’d spend an extra day here and be on our way.”

But then, the local Gardiner residents kept telling them that things were going to get worse before they were getting better.

“We kept hearing from locals that the time frame was getting longer and longer as the river breached more spots north of here,” Saunders said. “We began to realize we were stuck here for a while.”

Adding to the situation, Gardiner is suffering from a water main break, Saunders said, which has rendered their hotel's tap water undrinkable and many restaurants had to close.

But despite subsisting on bottled water, bread, PB&J’s, snacks and wine, the group overall is in OK spirits despite the circumstances, she said.

“Complaining only makes it worse so why bother,” Saunders said. “We are safe. The people evacuated from Yellowstone had it so much worse so it puts things into perspective.”

The main challenge has been boredom – especially with keeping her 11-year-old daughter occupied – but they still have electricity to power their electronics and they’ve tried to explore Gardiner while they’ve been stuck there.

But other than the occasional helicopter bringing in supplies, things don’t seem too out of the norm.

“No sense of urgency,” Saunders said. “Just another tourist town. You’d not know anything was wrong until you pop into a shop and hear everyone talking about it.”

On Tuesday, however, officials told Saunders that they had the go-ahead to start evacuating. Saunders said water levels receded enough the night before to get tourists out of town.

“They told everyone ‘If you need to go, go now,’ because they don’t know what the river is going to do with the coming rain,” she said.

They are heading to Bozeman, Montana, and then they are going to Idaho to fly back to North Carolina.

While the trip didn't go as expected, Saunders said they are still looking on the bright side.

“The scenery is gorgeous and we have wine,” Saunders said. “We will probably come back in a few years and try to do Yellowstone again. This hasn’t deterred us.”

Plus, she said the trip still offered many memories.

“It was an awesome trip until this,” Saunders said. “Still an awesome trip with the story will have to tell when we get home.”

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Lars Lonnroth is a journalism and political science student at Mercer University in Georgia. He's interning at WFAE.