HAMILTON — A survivor of a flash flood that destroyed part of a Montana ghost town last month says she and her family are lucky to be alive.
The Ravalli Republic reports Christi Skelton of Corvallis was vacationing with family in Bannack State Park on July 17 when a torrent of muddy, icy water came hurtling through the historic ghost town.
She says she was holding on to a fencepost with her 9-year-old cousin when a building collapsed and came toward them. She let go of the fence post, rather than be struck by the building. In the ordeal, she suffered severe cuts on her knees.
Skelton says it was an entire building coming toward her and she had the choice of getting caught underneath it or casting her fate with the current. She chose the latter — and survived.
“I did not want to get stuck underneath it because I knew we wouldn’t get up,” Skelton said. “I didn’t want it to knock us out because then the worst could happen. And so I just told him, ‘Ok, you hold on to me, and I’ll hold on to you, because we’re going down.’ I didn’t know if he could hear me, because it was so loud, like a raging river. And then we did. We let go, and let the water take us down.”
After the flood, the popular tourist destination will be closed for several more weeks, at least, Montana parks officials have said. The park’s historic Assay Office was destroyed, boardwalks were torn out and other buildings damaged. Clean-up and repair operations have begun.
Skelton says the day started warm, though dark clouds were building in the sky.
“A lot of family was in town from California visiting,” she recalls. “We go hunting and camping at Bannack several times a year, every year, so we wanted to take them to the ghost town.”
It began raining, then hailing. At least three-quarters of an inch of rain fell in a half hour, and the normally dry gullies that drain into the town were beginning to swell with water. Shrugging off what she thought was just a summer shower, Skelton and her four kids, along with her sister, aunt and three other cousins, decided to brave the rain.
The group barely had time to start sprinting before the waist-high wall of churning brown water caught up with them.
“It was so immediate, so fast,” Skelton said. “It was terrifying. One of my daughters and a cousin got the farthest up, and the water knocked them down but they were able to get back up. They didn’t get swept down. My son and another cousin were right behind them, and they did get swept down. They were swept off the street and down to one of the buildings below.”
Eventually, however, everybody made it out of the water.
X-rays later at the hospital showed there were no broken bones, but photos show Skelton with wounds on her knees and legs, bleeding.
“We are just so thankful that we’re still alive,” she said. “I don’t want to go through anything like that again. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It was awful. But we’re all doing well now.”
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