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Crooked Creek village celebrates an early Thanksgiving as flooded out residents get new homes

Posted: October 2, 2011 - 12:05am

ANCHORAGE — Nine Crooked Creek families plan to move into new homes designed by the Fairbanks nonprofit Cold Climate Housing Research Center over the next several days, giving them a warm place to stay just as snow begins to dust the mountains south of the Kuskokwim River village.

Just five months ago, spring flooding destroyed their riverside homes. The Anchorage Daily News reports water shoved log houses from their foundations and swept through living rooms. The state says about a fourth of occupied houses in the village were destroyed.

Gov. Sean Parnell declared the flood a state disaster, which made about $45,000 in individual assistant grants available to each displaced family in Crooked Creek, which is about 140 miles northeast of Bethel.

The May 8 ice jam and flooding that swept through town was similar to the Yukon River flooding that decimated the village of Eagle in 2009, said John Madden, director of the state emergency management division.

Helen Macar, 37, was five months pregnant at the time of the spring floods. She’d just finished cleaning the family’s log cabin when the water arrived at the steps of her deck.

Macar grabbed a picture from the wall and headed for higher ground.

“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. All we had was what we were wearing,” she said.

The flood carried her house 100 feet from its foundation. Fourteen homes were destroyed, according to the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Dozens of volunteers for faith-based relief groups began building nine replacement homes in August.

Macar toured her one-bedroom home for the first time after the community celebration.

“Holy cow,” she said, carrying her infant son to the kitchen as her children inspected the bedroom. “Look, we have cabinets, you kids.”

Macar said she felt overwhelmed and very thankful.

“My kids have a house before winter,” she said.

With metal siding and 14-inch walls filled with a soy-based foam insulation, the new homes dotting Crooked Creek are all the same deep blue. Each stands at least a foot above the village’s new high-water mark, resting on gravel beds and raised wooden platforms.

The housing research center created the design with rapid construction in a remote locale in mind, said Aaron Cooke, an architectural designer for Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization.

The skeleton of each home — the walls, roof and floor — are made from trusses that were shipped already assembled to the village. Erecting the buildings took maybe half the time of a more traditional stick frame house, said construction manager Jim Trosper, Samaritan’s Purse construction manager.

More than 120 people watched from plastic chairs and basketball court bleachers Thursday as villagers left homeless by the floods thanked volunteers and watched the state hand out awards and commendations for the relief effort. An official for Donlin Gold, the mining company that ferried people to safety in a helicopter the night of the village evacuation, arrived with a surprise: A $50,000 aid check to the village council.

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