Floodwaters drop after Alaska river ice jam breaks

ANCHORAGE — An ice-clogged river in Alaska’s interior that submerged much of a remote town was flowing again Thursday, sparing another nervous community in its path.

Floodwaters were dropping in Galena after the 30-mile ice jam downriver on the Yukon River broke and began moving Wednesday evening, emergency responders said.

Residents in the tiny village of Koyukuk, 13 miles downriver of the jam, had been bracing to be hit by a wall of flooding next. But lifelong resident Roy Nelson said that ice chunks in the Yukon River are flowing quickly past the community of 95.

“We just lucked out,” Nelson said. “So far, it looks like we might be all right.”

National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb said the river has risen in Koyukuk, 360 miles northwest of Anchorage, but may not flood. So far, the water has not overflowed its banks, said Marie Dayton, a member of the Koyukuk city council.

But villagers spent days preparing for the worst in the flood-prone area, where homes are built on stilts. They parked boats and rafts outside their homes. They moved machinery and vehicles to the airport, which is on higher ground. They hoped to escape the fate of Galena, where floodwaters lifted homes off foundations, buried cars and led to most of the community of 500 being evacuated.

“Nobody was resting,” Dayton said Thursday afternoon. “We slept all day today.”

In Galena, the breaking of the ice jam was like opening a drain in a bathtub. But now comes the hard work of recovering and rebuilding. The falling floodwaters have left pools in lower areas and deposited big chunks of ice everywhere, including dumping them on already damaged roads. That makes travel difficult, Plumb said.

The sewage lagoon was completely submerged, prompting state emergency managers to call for experts to gauge contamination. The flood, which began Sunday, threatened to breach a dike protecting the airport, virtually the only dry spot that was left in the community. Tanks of heating fuel outside homes floated up and spilled. Power is out and so are phone lines and working bathrooms. Some houses were flooded to the roofs.

“It’s going to be a long time for the community to get back to where it was,” Plumb said.

No one was injured, but many are traumatized. At least 15 homes have been destroyed, estimates March Running, among the few hundred residents who were evacuated to other communities, some bringing their dogs with them. Running wanted to stay in Galena, but was urged to leave because of health issues, including diabetes. Before leaving for Fairbanks 270 miles to the east, Running saw a house sitting on top of a pickup truck, she said.

Like many other Galena residents, Runner plans to return and help rebuild after the flooding many say ranks among the worst in the area. To those who ask why anyone would want to go back to a place that floods, she said this was not the average spring flood.

And residents want to go back for the same reason people who live in places hit by tornadoes or hurricanes rebuild there.

“This is their home,” Runner said. “Why are they going to leave it?”

State emergency management spokesman Jeremy Zidek said the damage in Galena is being assessed. Gov. Sean Parnell plans to issue a state disaster declaration for Galena and any other communities affected by the Yukon River flooding, Parnell’s spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said. A declaration would activate state disaster recovery funds.


Wed, 01/18/2017 - 11:36

Congressional delegation revs up for another ANWR fight

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's congressional delegation is hoping the 13th time will be the lucky one for legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas development. That's because - as he is quick to note - Rep. Read more

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 11:37

2 survive plane crash between villages in southwest Alaska

ANCHORAGE - Two people in a small airplane survived when they crashed on a flight between two southwest Alaska villages. Alaska State Troopers say a Coast Guard helicopter spotted the downed aircraft early Monday night. Read more

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 11:37

Man charged with manslaughter in hotel beating death

ANCHORAGE - A 23-year-old man has been charged with killing his mother's boyfriend at an Anchorage hotel. Elliot Myas is charged with manslaughter and felony assault in the death of the man, whose identity has not been released. Read more

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 11:37

Police seek man suspected of stealing car with child inside

ANCHORAGE - A warrant has been issued for a man suspected of stealing a car in Anchorage with a 3-year-old girl inside. Anchorage police are attempting to arrest 37-year-old Bruce Allen King on a felony warrant for vehicle theft. Read more


  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback