Feds opening disaster center in Fairbanks

FAIRBANKS — The federal government is opening a disaster recovery center in Fairbanks for people and businesses affected by spring flooding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and U. S. Small Business Administration will operate the center opening Tuesday, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

A disaster center is already open in Galena. SBA spokeswoman Cynthia Cowell said the Fairbanks center will help serve people who are farther upriver.

“It’s kind of hard for us to open a disaster center in Tok or Fort Yukon just because of the logistics involved,” Cowell said.

President Barack Obama last month declared a federal disaster for spring flooding in parts of Alaska. The declaration makes funding available for emergency work and repairs.

People have until Aug. 26 to apply for physical damage loans and until March 25 to submit economic injury applications.

“If you’re not approved ... in most cases we can send you back to FEMA for grant consideration,” Cowell said. “I know a lot of people say, ‘I don’t want a loan,’ but if they don’t complete their SBA applications then they are cutting themselves off from further government assistance.”

The declaration covers areas including the Alaska Gateway and Yukon Flats.

An ice jam in May on the Yukon River backed water into Galena. No one was hurt, but an estimated 180 homes were damaged and some were destroyed in the community of nearly 500 people. Some homes were flooded to the roofs.

As many as 300 people evacuated during the flooding. Most went to Fairbanks and some took refuge in Fairbanks and Ruby.

The flooding knocked out power in the community and brought a number of secondary problems, including how to keep bears away from hundreds of pounds of game meat that spoiled in residents’ refrigerators and freezers.

The flood also washed out the road to the community’s landfill.

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.

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