Flooding continues in Alaska's Interior

Rain causes rivers to spill banks, prompting voluntary evacuations

Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Rivers in Alaska's interior are spilling over their banks after two days of heavy rain, forcing several families to evacuate their homes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was planning to lower the gates on the Chena Flood Control Project late Wednesday afternoon to restrict the flow of the Chena River. Four steel gates 25 feet wide and 18 feet tall were to be lowered into the river to reduce flow to between 8,000 and 8,500 cubic feet per second. It is the 20th time in the past 27 years the gates have been used to regulate the river.

According to the National Weather Service, nearly three inches of rain has fallen in the upper reaches of the Salcha River. It was expected to crest Wednesday three feet above flood stage at the Richardson Highway.

Between 100 and 150 homes in the Salcha area have been affected. Water is two feet deep in some yards and still rising.

Several families have evacuated voluntarily in the Starkeyville Subdivision after water started pouring into the neighborhood. The Old Richardson Highway also is under water in some areas.

An emergency shelter has been set up at Salcha Elementary School on Richardson Highway. About 20 residents were at the shelter Wednesday out of about 30 who evacuated.

Before the rain picked up again Tuesday, rainfall in Interior Alaska was already two inches ahead of last year.

"With the inch and a half of rain we've received, it's clear we've had a very wet year and if we have any more precipitation then we could definitely go into flood posture," said John Schaake, director of the Army Corp of Engineers.

The Tanana River on Wednesday morning was its highest in nearly 11 years, according to the National Weather Service.

The Alaska Railroad suspended passenger service Wednesday north of Denali National Park and Preserve because of rising waters in the Nenana area. Passengers were being bused between the park and Fairbanks.

Earlier on Tuesday, the downpour left its mark on the Richardson Highway near 299 Mile, leaving a hole nearly 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Damage also was reported near 233 Mile near the Bear Creek Bridge.

The Taylor Highway suffered mud damage after 11 straight days of rain and is in the process of being repaired by the Department of Transportation.



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