Army rescues six people stranded by flooding along Interior rivers

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Ice jams caused flooding along two Interior Alaska rivers and an Army helicopter participated in two rescues.

Five staff members at a recovery camp at Old Minto waded 75 feet through waist-deep water to reach the helicopter.

Walter Fitt, 58, Charlie Titus Jr., 60, Greg Alexander, 40, Dana Pictou, 57, all of Fairbanks, and Donald Charlie, 50, of Nenana were rescued early Thursday morning.

The Old Minto Family Recovery Camp is on an island in the Tanana River about 30 miles from Nenana. They were on a cabin on the highest ground on the island. Charlie said the water rose quickly.

"At 1 a.m. it didn't crest the bank, then it was up to the building at 3 a.m.," said Charlie, the facility manager. "It raised up that fast in about two hours' time. It fluctuated - it went up, then went back down."

A Fort Wainwright Blackhawk helicopter flew to the scene at about 3:30 a.m. A tower near the buildings prevented the chopper from getting close, Charlie said.

The men did not have waders and had to walk through ice-cold water. One, Pictou, had wanted to buy hip waders before going but his wife, Lorraine Landers, told him they did not have the money.

"I'm never going to get out of the dog house," she said Friday.

Victor Joseph, health director for the Tanana Chiefs, said the facility appeared to have been damaged and his organization was planning to assess it Monday. There were no clients at the camp because it normally shuts down as a precaution during breakup, he said. The employees were preparing for the reopening.

"This is the first time it's flooded that bad in the area for some time," Joseph said. "It was a dangerous situation. They handled it really well."

The Army's Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic unit also was called to rescue a 48-year-old Nenana woman Friday morning.

An ice jam on the Tolovana River forced Rebecca Sather-Bowers to abandon her cabin and she took refuge on a barge.

At about 4 a.m., she told Alaska State Troopers by cell phone that she thought she and her 21 sled dogs would be all right.

However, her husband lost contact with her at about 8 a.m. and a helicopter was dispatched.

She was taken to Fort Wainwright and reunited with relatives.

Sather-Bowers had to leave her dogs on the barge but planned to go back for them Monday.

The Tolovana Roadhouse area was still covered by several feet of water Friday afternoon, said Ed Plumb, a hydrologist with the National River Forecast Center. The ice jam continued to move downstream, and additional flooding was not expected.

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