TJ, 51, and Victoria, 36, spoke to DailyMail.com in an emotional interview days after their home was washed away by the Yellowstone River
Still reeling from losing their home in devastating floods brought by ‘unprecedented’ rainfall, Victoria and TJ Britton are slowly trying to put their lives back together.
The couple’s house on the bank of the Yellowstone River in Gardiner, Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park, was swept away on Monday evening as flooding reached record levels.
Video of the property falling into the river and floating downstream was widely circulated on the Internet, bringing attention to the natural disaster ravaging the region.
Five days on, the Brittons took DailyMail.com to the site where their house had stood for the past 16 years.
It was the first time they had returned to the area that till this week they called home.
TJ, 51, is a carpenter for Yellowstone National Park, while his wife Victoria, 36, works at a local hotel.
They lived on the bank of the river in on the upper floor of the two-story wooden building. The large apartment building, owned by the US Government, was shared with four other families.
‘It’s surreal and I’m still processing what happened days ago,’ TJ told DailyMail.com.
The couple lived in a government-owned two-story wooden building, shared with four other families, on the banks of the river in Gardiner, Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park
TJ and Victoria were forced to evacuate the home Monday, just hours before it fell into the river and was swept away by rapidly rising flood waters
The couple’s home made headlines earlier this week after video of the structure collapsing into the water was shared by witnesses online and went viral
The pair were first warned by a neighbor that the building’s backyard structure was falling into the river, but they admitted they did not anticipate the situation would become worse
After a few hours, the stark reality that the couple were going to lose their home began to settle in
He became emotional as he recalled the moment a neighbor knocked on the door at 6:30 Monday morning to tell him part of the property was collapsing into the water.
‘Our neighbor told me that an area of my backyard had washed into the river. I couldn’t believe it, but I never thought our house would be consumed by the river.’
TJ said he didn’t want to leave his house, but was ‘basically forced’ to evacuate around 8:30am by a park ranger.
The couple quickly packed up, grabbing some important papers, a few personal items, and their two dogs, Lilo and Stitch, before leaving.
‘I didn’t even grab a change of underwear. I thought we’d be back. The worst possible scenario was that the house would be condemned, but we would still be able to go in and retrieve our belongings,’ he said.
But after a few hours, the stark reality that they were going to lose their home had settled in.
The pair shared photos of their house with DailyMail.com that showed the home being consumed by the rapidly rising river throughout the day.
About 45 minutes after a park ranger ordered them to leave, the wooden electric pole outside the building began slowly bending and getting consumed by the raging waters.
‘A short time later, the wires snapped, and you could hear the arcing of the electricity and the pole floated away in the river,’ Victoria said.
Over the next few hours, the couple stood on the hill above their house watching the river erode the bank little by little.
Five days after losing their home, the Brittons took DailyMail.com to the site where it had stood for the past 16 years
As the flooding conditions worsened, TJ and Victoria stood elevated on the hill above their house watching the river erode the bank little by little
TJ, who works as a carpenter for Yellowstone National Park, said he thought the worst case scenario was that their home would be condemned, but never imagined it would be completely ‘consumed by the river’
By 3pm, as the water levels continued to rise, the Brittons knew it was only a matter of time before the river would swamp their house, so TJ jumped on his bike and cycled to the other side of the river to snap some pictures of the building and garage before it disappeared.
A picture taken from the hill above their house at 4pm shows no garage in sight.
About an hour later, the water had eroded the slopes so much that parts of the house were now in the river.
It was at approximately 7:15pm that the entire house fell into the water, captured on video by several witnesses who were watching the destruction from across the river.
At that time, however, TJ and Victoria were a few miles away making other preparations and did not witness their home’s final demise.
‘I’m glad we didn’t see our house fall into the river, I’m not sure I would have been able to handle it,’ Victoria said. ‘I heard there were people clapping when it was falling.’
When TJ received word that his house had been swept away, he rushed back to town to meet up with his wife.
Then on the way back, driving along the river, he saw his own house floating downstream.
‘It was the most God-awful thing I ever saw,’ he said with tears in his eyes. ‘It was where my kids grew up. Our entire lives were lost. It was surreal seeing my house in the river, our mattress was floating behind it with my pillow on it.
‘You see on the news all the time people losing their homes, and you tell yourself how sad it is, but to really live through it is a different story. You just fill a loss, it’s not fun.’
The couple shared photos they snapped of their house being consumed by the rapidly rising river throughout the day
About 45 minutes after they were ordered to evacuate, the electric wooden pole erected outside the building began slowly bending and getting consumed by the river
By 3pm, as water levels continued to rise, TJ snapped some pictures of the garage before it disappeared into the water shortly after
By 5pm,the water had eroded the banks so much that parts of the house were now in the river
The Brittons were not present when their home finally fell in, to the relief of Victoria, who said she would not have been able to ‘handle’ such a devastating sight
TJ and Victoria have only found a few personal items, a fishing pole, a wooden sculpture, and a life jacket, since returning to the scene but aren’t holding out hope that they will find anything else
TJ said that even though the property was owned by the government, the house felt like his.
‘I paid rent, it was my home for the past 16 years. I treated it as my own. I’m devastated by the loss, it was everything we had,’ he added.
TJ estimates the river took out about 200 feet of land where his house was located, adding: ‘The river is about three times wider now than it was a week ago.’
Since returning to the scene, the couple has found personal items, a fishing pole, a wooden sculpture, and a life jacket, but aren’t holding out hope that they will find anything else.
The Brittons are appealing to anyone who finds any of their personal items to return them. One particular thing TJ wishes he could recover, he said, is his Cincinnati Reds baseball card collection – waterlogged or not – a memento of his grandfather’.
If there’s a silver lining in the tragedy, it’s that the situation has brought the two much closer. ‘We are safe and alive,’ TJ said.
In the meantime, Victoria’s brother has set up a GoFundMe account to help the Brittons get back on their feet. By Friday afternoon it had raised $15,210 of a $25,000 target.
TJ told DailyMail.com the couple is still unsure if they will stay in the area or move elsewhere.
DailyMail.com got a firsthand glimpse of the damage caused by the unprecedented flooding in the area, flying over a 50-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River from Livingston, Montana, to inside the north entrance of Yellowstone Park
Locals estimate the river is now about three times the wider now than it was a week ago
A portion of a cement bridge near Emigrant, Montana was damaged in the floods, cutting off access to a road
An aerial view shows a home that survived extreme flooding along US Route 89 near Gardiner, Montana on Wednesday
A home was seen teetering over the Yellowstone River in the wake of the natural disaster
‘We are going to make a plan and do what is right for us. We aren’t going to make any rash decisions. We are reassessing things in our life right now,’ he said.
DailyMail.com got a firsthand glimpse of the damage caused by the unprecedented flooding in the area, flying over a 50-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River from Livingston, Montana, to inside the north entrance of Yellowstone Park.
Several logs and driftwood dotted the river’s edge. Strewn along the logs were clothing, a refrigerator, a freezer with a gallon of milk still in it, detached structures of a house, a door and window, and other personal items.
Parts of the roadway that runs parallel to the river were covered in sand, bridges destroyed by running waters lay damaged, and lowland areas away from river were still flooded.
Mark Taylor, owner and chief pilot of Rocky Mountain Rotors, told DailyMail.com he air-lifted about 40 people from the Gardiner area to Bozeman on Monday and Tuesday, including two pregnant women and a man who is just recovering from a stroke.
‘Out of abundance of caution these people wanted out of Gardiner. One other man needed insulin,’ he said.
But according to Taylor to be airlifted out costs at least $1,000-an-hour for a two-seater, and up to $5,200-an-hour for a seven-seat helicopter.
Earlier this week Montana Governor Greg Gianforte wrote to President Biden requesting major disaster declaration because of the major flooding that left 218 miles of roads closed, most of which have no alternate route.
An initial estimate of damage to transport infrastructure is $29million.
Construction workers tend to a damaged train trestle along the swollen Yellowstone River near US Route 89 in Montana on Wednesday after extreme flooding sent houses into the Yellowstone River and flooded a swath of areas
Highway workers inspect a washed out bridge along the Yellowstone River Wednesday
Governor Gianforte, who returned from a vacation in Tuscany, Italy, on Thursday noted that the rainfall coupled with the snow water runoff equated to a 5 to 10-inch runoff over roughly in a 24-hour period this past week would be equated somewhere between a 1 in a 100-year event to a 1 in a 500-year event.
The Yellowstone River, at one point crested at 16 feet, and washed away a portion of a cement bridge near Emigrant, Montana.
Road crews were seen from the air reinforcing the area with huge boulders to further prevent any more erosion to the area. A lone abandoned ATV vehicle was still on the bridge.
Further down the down the river there were thousands of logs piled up together along the edge and on the banks.
US Highway 89 at times parallels the Yellowstone River, at the crest water flooded the roadway making it impossible to drive on.
Days later as the water receded the road was covered in sand and silt, construction crews had to take a snowplow to rid the roadway of the debris.
There were several homes along the river that had sign of damage. Some of the homes had a stairway from the back of the house down to water.
The once gentle sloping bank on the rivers edge has now been eroded away long with the stairway that once went down to the water.
One property has a garage that now is partially overhanging the river because of the erosion. Another property had a large red 1000-gallon propane tank sitting in their backyard.
The natural disaster has forced Yellowstone National Park to close its entrances to visitors for the first time in 34 years. Park officials also said the road leading in and out of the north entrance will not be open this summer.