Interior Alaska town floods; residents evacuated
FAIRBANKS — The National Guard has helped evacuate residents from a small community in Alaska’s interior where a river ice jam caused major flooding, washing out roads and submerging homes and other buildings.
State officials estimate several hundred people have left the town of Galena, which remained mostly underwater Tuesday with the Yukon River ice jam firmly in place, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
National Weather Service meteorologist Christopher Cox said 90 percent of the community’s roads were flooded, and many buildings had 7 feet of water in them. Some of the people who were displaced said they escaped in rafts battered by ice chunks and floating debris.
After rising floodwaters breached a wall protecting the Galena airport, the National Guard flew in to evacuate any remaining residents who wanted to leave the community of nearly 500, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Evacuee Shane Edwin stepped off a flight to Fairbanks on Tuesday afternoon and described the scene he left behind as “a whole bunch of chaos.”
“The roads are all gone,” he said. “The houses are flipped over. It’s just trashed. I couldn’t grab anything, not even my ID. The water came so fast.”
State emergency management spokesman Jeremy Zidek told The Associated Press water went over low areas of the dike at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. The water level fell after that, but he said there was still the threat of the water topping the dike again. He said that’s why the state took the step of bringing in military aircraft to aid in the evacuations of anyone else who wanted to leave.
Evacuations have been running for several days, with many residents flying to Fairbanks 270 miles to the east. Gov. Sean Parnell’s office said in a release that the sewer and water systems at the Galena shelter failed, forcing additional evacuations.
Parnell’s office put the number of evacuations at 300, as of noon Tuesday. Zidek said that number was fluid. He could not say how many people remained.
Parnell surveyed the flooding Tuesday afternoon with Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Department personnel have been aiding the Tanana Chiefs Conference in evacuations, Parnell’s office said.
The flooding in Galena should clear when the ice jam breaks. But the forecaster, Cox, said it’s unclear when that will occur.
Parnell said the flooding is expected to worsen before the waters begin to recede.
When the jam breaks, the downriver community of Koyukuk will be at risk of flooding.
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