BUTTE — Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh surveyed the flash flood damage at Bannack State Park Monday, saying he is amazed by the devastation.
And the 20 visitors stranded in the restored ghost town when the storm hit about 4 p.m. Wednesday? They were lucky to escape unscathed, he said.
At the height of the flash flood, nearly three feet of water surged down Hangmen’s Gulch and through the center of town. It destroyed one building, the Assay Office, and tore away much of the boardwalk on both sides of the street.
“You look at some of the mining equipment that was moved several hundred yards, and that stuff is made of steel, so it gives you an idea of the impact the rains had,” Walsh said. “It’s amazing the water damage caused by the heavy rains and hail. It just shows you the impact Mother Nature can have on a place like this.”
The park is expected to remain closed for at least a month as workers try to restore the town that first established in 1862.
State park officials still have not put a dollar amount on the damage, but insurance is expected to cover a majority of the cost to return the town to its previous condition. Walsh said the state is ready to step in as well.
“What the insurance doesn’t cover will more than likely come from the state,” Walsh said.
Park manager Dale Carlson said more cleanup will have to be done before structural engineers can examine foundations, though he did say a handful of buildings have been prioritized in terms of their importance and the damage they received.
Those buildings are mostly located in the center of town and include the Meade Hotel, City Drug, Turner House, Graves House, the post office and the jails.
Carlson, who lives in Bannack, said the last few days have been hellish.
“Well, I’ve been here nine years, and personally, you know, the way you’re used to seeing Bannack and the way you see it now, it’s devastating,” Carlson said. “You just think you’re going to wake up the next day and discover you had a nightmare, but it’s all reality, so we deal with it as we go.”