A landslide triggered a flood in the tiny gold rush community of Dyea, north of Skagway, early this morning, officials said.
No injuries were reported and about 25 people in Dyea were evacuated to Skagway, about 10 miles away. The road from Skagway to Dyea is closed and tours into the area have been canceled until further notice, Skagway City Manager Bob Ward said.
"We have declared a local emergency and are working on a risk assessment," he said. "All the residents have been accounted for."
Ward said a lateral moraine, or material on the side of West Creek Glacier, appears to be the source of the landslide that led to the flood. Reports indicate a subsurface aquifer weakened and collapsed the 700-foot high moraine, he said.
Lance Pape, who flew over the area this morning, said the material moved into a lake at the bottom of West Creek Glacier.
"The sudden surge of the lake volume moved the water down the West Creek drainage to Dyea," he said.
The Taiya River, into which the West Creek flows, crested at 21 feet at 7 a.m. today and fell to 17 feet by 10 a.m., Ward said. Yesterday, the river was at 15.5 feet, he said.
As of this morning, the city was waiting for more information before reopening the road into Dyea. Ward said a glaciologist and state hydrologist are scheduled to assess the situation. The flood doesn't appear to be weather-related, he said.
"It appears the water is receding, but we're going to get an expert opinion," he said.
Dyea is at the head of the historic Chilkoot Trail and was a bustling city of 8,000 during the peak of the gold rush. The old historic town site of Dyea isn't at risk and bridges in the area are intact, Ward said. People hiking the Chilkoot Trail were above the flooding area, although homes in the area were damaged by the water, Ward said.
Eric Hosford, who was staying in his family's cabin near the river, said he was awakened by a friend at about 6 a.m. and noticed water rising around them.
"My friend Clayton woke me up and said, 'We're floating away and we're flooding,' " he said. "When we got out, everything was submerged, there was no land to walk on."
The two were able to get out of the area by driving their Blazer on the uphill side the road. The water was beyond waist-deep in spots, Hosford said from Skagway.
"My Uncle Ray's truck was completely submerged. It depends on where you are in the valley," he said.
Eric's mother, Kathy Hosford, who runs the newly opened Chilkoot Trail Outpost with her husband in Dyea, said the structure wasn't flooded and her guests made it out safely. The lodge is a half mile from the head of the Chilkoot Trail, she said.
"We were comfortable for our safety, but people on the lower ground over by the West Creek were affected somewhat," she said.
Dyea has about 20 year-round residents, Kathy Hosford said.
The city of Skagway set up an emergency shelter at the Skagway City School and vans were sent into Dyea to pick people up, Ward said. The water didn't flood the road from Dyea into Skagway, he said.
The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park has a ranger station and campground in Dyea and superintendent Bruce Noble said park facilities didn't appear to be damaged by the flood.
"The water level is going down at the moment and we hope it will continue," he said. "There's still some concern that there will be a release of additional water. At the moment the evacuation is going to stay in effect. The tour companies that do business are in a holding pattern until it is secure and stable."
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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