GALENA — Yukon River flooding that knocked out power to the Alaska village of Galena has brought on a number of secondary problems, including how to keep bears away from hundreds of pounds of game meat that has spoiled in residents’ refrigerators and freezers.
The flood caused by ice clogging the Yukon submerged some homes and washed out the road to the community’s landfill. On Monday, emergency responders were developing plans to collect spoiled meat and fly it by helicopter to the dump, said Jeremy Zidek, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
“All the freezers filled with game began to get pretty bad,” Zidek said.
Plans called for meat to be collected in one central location, loaded into a sling and lifted to the dump, he said.
Many Galena residents remain evacuated to other communities, and Zidek was unsure who would be doing the collecting. In rural Alaska, freezers often are kept in arctic entryways where it’s cold in the wintertime and where they’re accessible without entering a home.
Zidek had heard no reports of bears approaching, as has happened previously when rural villages flood.
The breakup of ice along the Yukon and other main Alaska rivers is a major spring event, marking the transition between winter transportation over ice and summer transit by boat. However, if the thick river ice begins to break up and move downstream before it has melted into small pieces, it can jam in narrow or shallow portions of river and create a temporary dam that backs up water into villages.
The Yukon below Galena jammed May 27, sending water into the community of nearly 500 that once hosted a U.S. Air Force Base. No one was injured, but some homes were flooded to the roofs.
Water did not recede until the weekend, and evidence of damage was everywhere Sunday, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Ice floes had floated into yards, along with logs and other debris from upstream locations. Water remained around some homes and covered a baseball field.
The water knocked homes off foundations in both the old “downtown” section of Galena and a newer section built after a 1971 flood.
The problems with rancid meat played a role in responders asking evacuees to delay their return.
“Alaska’s a free state, so I’m not going to tell people not to go home,” said Glenn Farnsworth, a Division of Forestry employee who became the incident commander for flood recovery. “(But) I don’t want kids coming back when I’ve got two tons of rancid meat in town.”
The flooding damaged fire trucks and the town is in poor shape to handle another emergency, Farnsworth said. No physicians were on hand, and the village nurse was away.
Water in fuel tanks and flooding of the community’s sewage lagoon led to concerns about chemical and biological contamination, said acting city manager Greg Moyer.
“Did you smell those fumes? What is that? We need to know,” he said.
A dike protected the former Air Force station. Zidek said barracks are being readied to house responders and returning townspeople who cannot immediately move back into their homes.