Saturday, May 09, 2009

Eagle, Alaska Begins Recovery After Ice Jam Flood Takes Out 30 Homes, Contaminates The Well With E.Coli, And Spreads Diesel Pollution

View all posts on the 2009 Interior Alaska floods HERE, in inverse chronological order. The most recent post will appear first.

Note: A National Weather Service list of current flood watches and advisories for Interior Alaska is available HERE.

On May 8th, 2009, residents of Eagle, Alaska began the slow and messy task of cleaning up after a disastrous ice jam flood that claimed 30 homes in the main city of Eagle, and took out all remaining homes as well as a medical clinic and a church in the old Eagle Village three miles upstream to the east. The new Eagle Village five miles further upstream was built further away from the river, and is high and dry as a result. Residents of the old Eagle Village slowly relocated to the new village over the past few years, largely due to the likelihood of annual break-up flooding at the old site.

Whether any of the 30 homes in Eagle itself can be saved is problematic. All are considered severely damaged, some are perched askew on icebergs, and others on solid land but hundreds of feet from their foundations. But nobody was killed or injured. Additional challenges include large ice chunks scattered throughout the area, that locals say will only melt slowly, as well as diesel contamination from ruptured tanks, and the town's only well contaminated with E.coli. KTUU news story HERE; video embedded below:

Those who have lost homes or can't access their properties are staying with friends around town, at a temporary tent camp between the two Native villages, and at a shelter in the community school. They're helping cook, sorting loads of donations brought in by plane and truck to the area more than 160 miles from a major highway. Some are assessing the extent of damages, and many may be debating whether to stay and rebuild, or pack up and leave this town on the banks of a huge, unpredictable river. Most live on subsistence, depending upon the salmon runs. But the slow-melting ice chunks may make it difficult for them to stretch nets across the river to catch salmon, and most of the salmon wheels have been destroyed. Read another recovery story in the Anchorage Daily News.

There was one bright spot for Eagle on May 8th; the graduation ceremony for the lone member of the Eagle Community School's Class of 2009, Clint McElfresh, was held. But McElfresh, whose family's home remained high and dry, spent the rest of the day helping those affected by the flood.

After the ice jam finally broke loose, an ice-clogged breakup front initially estimated to be 35 miles long began traveling down the Yukon River. As it passed Circle and Fort Yukon, water rose in both communities, creating minor flooding, but soon passed and left no permanent damage. Although the breakup front now has reportedly shrunk to 20 miles long, it is heading for Beaver, a community of 65 residents, the most vulnerable of who have already been evacuated, and then for Stevens Village, a community of 70 residents. Read another story about this in ADN's Rural Alaska blog.

And it's not just the Yukon River creating problems. The Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska is also in breakup mode. The Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center says flood warnings are in effect for seven Kuskokwim River communities, including McGrath, Kalskag, Tuluksak, Akiak, Kwethluk, Napakiak, and Bethel. About a third of the runway in Tuluksak was already flooded as of Friday afternoon.

Most people in Interior Alaska are long-term residents who accept the fact that breakup each year brings the risk of flooding, and prepare for it. Floods as catastrophic as the one in Eagle are rare.