Parts of Yellowstone National Park to reopen after historic flooding

(CBS) — Portions of Yellowstone National Park will reopen beginning next week, the National Park Service announced Saturday.

The news comes several days after historic flooding destroyed houses, water systems and roads in the area and forced the park to close.

The park’s south loop will have limited service beginning Wednesday at 8 a.m., the park service said. The north loop will remained closed until further notice. In a statement Saturday, the park service said it expects the northern area to “remain closed for a substantial length of time.”

“Many sections of road in these areas are completely gone and will require substantial time and effort to reconstruct,” it said.

In order to slow the flow of visitors expected at the reopened entrances, the park service said it will implement an “Alternating License Plate System.” Vehicles with license plates ending in odd numbers will be able to enter the park on odd days of the month, while even numbers can enter on even days. Special license plates with letters only will be permitted to enter on odd days.

There will be certain exceptions to this rule, including for those who have proof of overnight reservations in the park. For the full list of exemptions, visit the National Park Service’s website here.

“We have made tremendous progress in a very short amount of time but have a long way to go,” Cam Sholly, the Yellowstone National Park superintendent, said in the Saturday statement. “We have an aggressive plan for recovery in the north and resumption of operations in the south. We appreciate the tremendous support from National Park Service and Department of the Interior leadership, in addition to our surrounding Congressional delegations, governors, counties, communities, and other partners.”

Chuck Sams, the National Park Service director, said they are doing “everything we can to support the park, partners, concessioners, and gateway communities on the road to recovery.”

The unprecedented and sudden flooding earlier this week drove most of the more than 10,000 visitors out of the nation’s oldest park, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

At least 300 homes and 200 structures were damaged — a particularly stunning video showed a home falling into the Yellowstone River as the water rose. On Friday, survey teams were still struggling to reach rural communities after about 15 bridges were destroyed.

The water also cut off fresh drinking water to the 110,000 residents of Billings, Montana, the state’s largest city, according to the Associated Press.

“None of us planned a 500-year flood event on the Yellowstone when we designed these facilities,” said Debi Meling, the city’s public works director.

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