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In Livingston, mud, muck and uncertainty follow the flood

The Yellowstone River in Livingston, MT, on the morning of June 13, 2022.
Nick Mott
The Yellowstone River in Livingston, MT, on the morning of June 13, 2022.

Major flooding in south central Montana has destroyed homes, roads and bridges. Reporter Nick Mott lives in Livingston, where the Yellowstone River crested around 11 p.m. last night. He joins MTPR News Director Corin Cates-Carney to describe what the town looks like today.

Corin Cates-Carney: Nick, where are you?

Nick Mott: I’m over at a friend’s house. My friend, Celeste, runs a Montessori school on her property and has a house just less than a thousand feet from the river. And I spent most of yesterday with a group of friends and strangers helping her barricade the perimeter of the house with sandbags. And that effort didn’t go that great because they didn’t hold. And so now we are cleaning up over here.

Cates-Carney: What does the cleanup look like?

Mott: At the school, the waterline is about knee-deep it looks like. Everything is covered in a layer of mud. I am just standing in muck and mud right now. Just on the other side of the house from me, there are some folks with a big old suction-tube and some cleaning stuff to help get all that mud out of here. We still don’t know really the full extent of the damage in terms of mold and in terms of some of the lasting infrastructure stuff. It’s actually a little better than it could have been for sure. But it’s not great and it’s all hands on deck over here.

Cates-Carney: We’ve seen some of the photos of the infrastructure that has been just washed away completely by the flood and the areas connecting Livingston to Yellowstone National Park and the critical link that is for the tourism industry, people who make their living on people coming through. Has there been talk of what happens next there or is attention all to the immediate cleanup?

Mott: It’s a mixture of both. People are still assessing everything that’s happened, the true extent of the damage. And it’s really, really clear that things won’t be the same for a minimum of months. There’s just too much damage. Like you said, bridges are out, roads throughout the park are just utterly destroyed. The images are breathtaking of how severe this damage has been and at this point there is no telling how long fixing all that will take. The emphasis definitely right now is on getting things cleaned up in the immediate. But people are certainly thinking about ‘what next’ too. Yellowstone provides more than $600 million to local economies through tourism and at least the north part of the park is going to be shut down for a long time and that is destined to have tremendous impacts for this region in particular.

Cates-Carney: How widespread is the damage in Livingston?

Mott: It’s relatively isolated to areas near the river. But that’s not an insignificant amount of space in Livingston - the city is oriented around the river. And then you go upstream from here, through Paradise Valley, the river is everywhere right now and it’s affecting absolutely everyone because everyone has to go near the river to travel, to get anywhere. So even though it is somewhat isolated in town, the real impacts are something that everybody here will feel.

Cates-Carney: You mentioned you were helping a friend clean up their home. What are you hearing when you talk to your friends and neighbors about what’s going on?

Mott: Still, people are getting a grasp on what’s happening. It hasn’t entirely sunk in. Like I was talking with my friend, Celeste, earlier and she is clearly shaken but also says, like, she just hasn’t had time to process it yet, because it’s just go, go, go and we are still learning what the true extent of the damage is. And that’s really how it seems to be everywhere. And one really amazing thing to see is community members all over town who are stepping up to help fill sandbags and to just offer support whether to house displaced people or house pets and livestock or just step in and help where they can. It’s a real community effort here.

Cates-Carney: Is your place fine?

Mott: My place is fine. I could barely sleep last night. We stayed with friends on the other side of town away from the river, up on a hill. And I could barely sleep. I drove by the house in the middle of the night to check on it. And this morning when we got back it was miraculously dry - our whole neighborhood is fine. But places like over here at Celeste’s, at our friend’s house are not fine. And luckily, a lot of people are stepping up to pitch in and help people like this out.

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Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
Nick Mott is a reporter and podcast producer based in Livingston, Montana.
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