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Homes in Alaska village of Huslia threatened by erosion

Posted: June 8, 2014 - 12:08am

FAIRBANKS — An eroding river in Alaska’s interior is threatening several homes in the Athabascan village of Huslia.

The Koyukuk River bank has shifted 70 feet in the last several days, coming within 5 feet of one resident’s home, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Residents tore down one unoccupied home to save its parts for reuse, Edwin Bifelt with the Huslia Tribal Council said. Bifelt said the home 5 feet from the bank might not be able to be saved.

“There’s nothing really we can do about that house,” he said. “It’s an older house. It’s too close to try to move it. It’s too close to try to do anything with it.”

The village of 320 people is located about 250 miles west of Fairbanks.

Riverbank erosion is not unusual for Huslia. However, the extent of this year’s migration is abnormal, National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb said.

“You do get a little bit of erosion every year,” he said. “But this is more unusual to have 70-plus feet of bank slump into the river in such a short amount of time.”

Plumb said recent heavy rainfall in the Brooks Range combined with snowmelt to swell the river’s flow. That combination wasn’t enough to cause flooding in the village, but the extra flow rapidly became a problem for the river’s weak banks.

The water level reached its height several days ago, and Plumb estimated it would return to normal by Saturday.

People in the village have been working through the week to prevent the loss of other properties. Power lines running along the river were taken down. People have been anxiously watching to see if homes need to be moved.

The tribal council has submitted a request for aid to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service and has been communicating with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

State emergency managers said they are standing by for any requests for assistance.

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