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Airlift sent for marooned Denali guests, employees

Posted: June 27, 2014 - 12:15am

DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE — Officials have organized an airlift for dozens of lodge guests and lodge employees at Denali National Park and Preserve after flooding hit one lodge and flooding and rockfalls prompted the closure of the only road into the park on Thursday.

Overnight rains swelled small streams, park spokeswoman Kris Fister said. Flooding in the Kantishna area, near the end of the 92-mile road, prompted a road closure near Wonder Lake. Later in the day, falling rock closed the road at the Eielson Visitor Center. That’s located at Mile 66, or about two-thirds of the way into the park.

Denali Backcountry Lodge was housing about 100 guests and employees when two nearby raging creeks flooded the facility. Those people were evacuated by bus Thursday and taken to a smaller nearby lodge, which was providing food but couldn’t house them all, Fister said. By Thursday night, an airlift was under way using two helicopters and several small planes to transport those people to either buses at a ranger station or to private airstrips, the spokeswoman said.

Other lodges in the area did not flood and their guests should be able to get out by road on Friday after some temporary road repairs were completed, Fister said.

A park helicopter also picked up four stranded climbers on the south side of the McKinley River, the spokeswoman said. They advised by satellite phone that had been trying to cross the river for several days but river conditions kept growing more hazardous and they had run out of food, she said.

People camping at the Wonder Lake Campground were able to leave on a bus that was allowed in Thursday afternoon. Fister said some campers chose to remain at the campground on higher ground where there is no danger of flooding.

More than 3 inches of rain have fallen in the 6 million acre park, located between Anchorage and Fairbanks, on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wonder Lake recorded 2.91 inches overnight.

“That’s a lot of rain in that part of the world,” National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Thoman told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “That’s really extreme.”

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