Dyea resident George D'Amico was trying to get his two dogs away from an encroaching flood early Tuesday morning when suddenly he was standing in thigh-deep water.
"It sounded like freight trains going by," he said. "I went from dry feet up to mid-thigh in water in about 15 seconds. That's when I put my canoe on the porch and decided if the water came into my house I'd get into the canoe and paddle to Skagway."
D'Amico, who owns George's Auto Repair in nearby Skagway, caught the attention of a helicopter overhead and waited until a search-and-rescue crew from the Skagway Fire Department arrived. After trying unsuccessfully to reach the house by raft, the crew helped D'Amico and his dogs escape safely in the canoe.
West Creek now surrounds the home D'Amico rents in Dyea and he isn't able to live there. As of Wednesday, his yard was covered with 10 inches of thick glacial silt and his driveway was marked with huge water-filled holes, he said.
"One cabin was washed off of the foundation and moved 150 yards into the trees," he said. "The main house is OK, but the basement is flooded. I have an indoor swimming pool now."
More than 35 people were evacuated from Dyea to Skagway, about 10 miles away, on Tuesday. The area flooded after a landslide near the West Creek Glacier dropped debris into a lake below, which sent a rush of water toward town.
The Dyea Road re-opened Tuesday afternoon, and the Dyea campground is scheduled to open later this week. The West Creek road and bridge remain closed.
Skagway City Manager Bob Ward said the city is sending in workers today to remove boulders at the base of the West Creek gorge that are diverting the flow of water in the area.
"The water levels are still very high and a significant amount of water was diverted out of the banks into areas where the river doesn't run," he said. "It's restricting access and maintaining difficulty for property owners. We need to get that situation remedied and get West Creek back into West Creek."
The city of Skagway may make a disaster declaration, Ward said, which could bring financial assistance to beleaguered property owners.
"We're still considering the potential of a disaster declaration depending on the efforts required to clean up after this," he said. "We just don't know what we have until we clear some of this water out of the way."
While Pattie Maggi and her husband are back at home in Dyea, they are coping with damage to the lower floors of their house. The flooring under their family room has buckled and water is coming in around water pipes in the basement, Maggi said.
"My husband took a pickup load of stuff to be destroyed. Books, pictures, some stuff that can't be replaced," she said. "We had a shed that moved off of its foundation. It's still on our property. The trees stopped it."
Neighbor Beryl Hosford and her husband don't expect to be able to live in their house for some time. Their well, septic system and generator were flooded, she said.
"The water came in and didn't leave," she said. "It bottlenecked. It held there and swirled around."
The Hosfords dug a trench on their property Wednesday to drain the water away from their home. Their garage, furnace room and wash room are filled with mud. The flood moved 20 cords of wood stored in their yard for winter.
"There's no way we can stay there now. We can't get to it except by canoe," Hosford said. "The first thing is to get the water drained off."
While most tours to the area have resumed, Chilkat Guides hasn't been able to operate its half-day float and hike trips since the flood, manager Jeff Ferragi said from Skagway. The guide operation uses the West Creek bridge to move its rafts, but the bridge is closed.
"We hike the passengers in on the Chilkoot Trail and float out on the Taiya River," he said. "We're trying to come up with an alternate to get our passengers out into the wilderness."
Ferragi said he and other guides from his company spent Wednesday bailing water off the Chilkoot Trail.
"There were some very fortunate things. It happened before any tours were out there," he said. "And it was low tide. The water had a place to drain. It could have been a whole different situation out there."
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.
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