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Yellowstone backpacker on community that sheltered him during flooding


In the viral videos, the whole house appears mostly intact. Then, suddenly, the whole thing tips over into the Yellowstone River and floats downstream. This happened near the small town of Gardiner, Mont., where flooding blocked or destroyed all the roads going in or out for days, and all entrances to nearby Yellowstone National Park remain closed again today. Brendan Phillips and some of his friends were trying to go backpacking in Yellowstone before they were stranded in Gardiner. They made it out yesterday, and we called Brendan today to find out about what happened over the past few days.

Brendan, I know it's been a wild few days for you, so thanks for making time today to talk about this.

BRENDAN PHILLIPS: Yeah, it has been a wild few days, that's for sure.

PFEIFFER: What did you see when you were there? How intense and visible was the flooding?

PHILLIPS: The flooding was something that - I don't know - it was just raging rivers, basically. It was knocking off all the banks. You know, a bunch of dirt was falling. And then that's when we kind of - we were walking around. Since everyone was stuck in town, we were just looking at the river, and then we seemed to notice the house.

PFEIFFER: Ah. And so what made you want to watch it? Was it clear that this house was in peril?

PHILLIPS: Big time - and pretty much the whole town seemed to be watching. It was kind of one of those things where everyone knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of time because of how quickly the river was rising. Word spreads quickly in a town of 900, and everyone got a view and sat around and, you know, watched the house.

PFEIFFER: And this is because the flooding was so intense, it was eroding the bank, and eventually it eroded its way to the border of the house?

PHILLIPS: Correct, yeah. In a lot of the videos that you see online, you can see the bank start to erode, and that's what it looked like all up and down the river. So you would hear these - it kind of sounded like earthquake sounds, but it's just the bank falling into the river. So it was definitely an intense gushing of water, that's for sure.

PFEIFFER: What did you do for a place to stay, since it sounds like you only had tents?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, so we got super lucky. A great group of people from the Gardiner Community Church - the two names that I remember are Alisa and Tim, and I wish I could remember the rest of their names, but they were amazing to us. They made us dinner the night of, like, the road closures, and then they also let us stay there that night, and then they also made us breakfast. So that's what...

PFEIFFER: Oh, is that right?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, they were incredible. They helped us out a lot - and just, you know, very good hosts.

PFEIFFER: Did you feel frightened?

PHILLIPS: No, we weren't frightened, really, because, like, we saw several, like, supply drops from helicopters, and I believe they were bringing in water. So we weren't worried at all, really. It was just a - honestly, we were just kind of taking it in and just being like, well, this is our situation, and, you know, we just got to, I guess, try to have a good time while we're here because we don't know when we can leave.

PFEIFFER: Well, it's excellent that they were there to support you, but obviously the tourists like you have been able to get out, and people who live there now need to deal with the aftermath of the flooding. Do you have any idea what support network exists for the people who live there full-time?

PHILLIPS: I know that the town of Gardiner relies heavily on tourist attractions. You know, they have little shops and stuff and really cool restaurants. So without any access to Yellowstone, it might be kind of tough for them. Obviously, fingers crossed, I hope they can make a full recovery.

PFEIFFER: Any plans to try to go back to Yellowstone eventually?

PHILLIPS: We would love to. We really want to go back to the town of Gardiner because that little town was pretty awesome, and obviously it's going to be in our memories for a while.

PFEIFFER: That's Brendan Phillips, one of the many people who evacuated from the area in and around Yellowstone National Park amid extreme flooding. Brendan, thanks very much, and we're glad you're back home safely.

PHILLIPS: All right. I appreciate it. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Patrick Jarenwattananon
[Copyright 2024 NPR]