Anchorage, Alaska (AP) - Ice jams in two Alaska rivers unleased major, rapid flooding over the weekend that damaged homes and left huge chunks of ice as tall as 12 feet (3.7 meters) littered across communities in the state’s southwest and east.
Floodwaters on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers rose quickly Saturday before retreating Sunday, leaving widespread damage in communities like Circle and Crooked Creek, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Homes were lifted off foundations, smashed into by ice, or inundated with water.
A flood warning was in effect until Tuesday evening for several villages in southwest Alaska. A flood watch was in effect for several eastern communities due to a surge of ice and water moving down the Yukon river, according to the National Weather Service. A heightened risk of flooding this year had been predicted due to above-average snowpack and low temperatures into the spring.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration for the communities of Eagle and Circle in eastern Alaska; Crooked Creek in the southwest; and Glennallen in south-central Alaska.
Diane Olmstead, a teacher in Circle, said it took only about 10 minutes for the chilly floodwaters to rise a foot high (30 cm) after they began creeping toward the school at around 8 p.m. Olmstead said she watched as a colleague was rescued from their housing and brought to the school. By about 9:30 p.m., the water “started to recede almost as dramatically as it rose,” she said.
Olmstead's car was destroyed and she lost most of her belongings. She cried as she surveyed the damage in the community, which included one house near the river being washed away and at least seven others nearby knocked from their foundations and battered with ice, she said.
No one was hurt but emergency officials were working to bring generators, backup communication systems and clean drinking water into the village of about 75 people, roughly 160 miles (257 kilometers) northeast of Fairbanks.
Flooding in Circle was at or near the record level reached in 1945, said Mike Ottenweller, a forecaster with the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center.
No major damage was reported in Glennallen although water surrounded some buildings, Ottenweller said. Flooding could continue the next few weeks as more snow melts, he said.
Recovery will be challenging in Circle and Crooked Creek, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesperson with the state's emergency management office.
“There’s a lot of ice that’s been deposited on roads and within the community — and we’re talking about huge chunks of ice, some of them as tall as 12 feet,” he said. “A lot of homes have been pushed off their foundation in Circle and moved some distance.”
In Crooked Creek, most residents in the village of about 90 people evacuated to the school, which is on higher ground, as an ice jam on the Kuskokwim River caused rapid flooding late Saturday and into Sunday, Zidek said.
Emergency officials called on the Alaska National Guard to rescue 12 people who were in the second story of a home and unable to evacuate, Zidek said. A helicopter from the Donlin Gold project rescued three of the people before the National Guard arrived, and the others accessed a boat as the water began to recede, he said.
Zidek did not immediately have an estimate of how many homes were damaged.
Ottenweller said the water level there was up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) higher than it had reached in 2011, a year that marked the most extreme flooding Crooked Creek had seen in recent decades.