Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ice Jam At Bishop Rock Backs Up Yukon River Into Galena; 90 Percent Of Village Flooded

During breakup, the Yukon River can be a fickle mistress. This spring, it delivered a glancing blow at Eagle, baptized Circle in water, and spared Fort Yukon at the last moment. But now 90 percent of the village of Galena is underwater. The Anchorage Daily News has the most detailed story, but useful accounts are available from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and APRN and Alaska Dispatch, which has somne outstanding photos HERE. Here's an even more explanatory photo on NWS Facebook.

On May 30th (British time), this story made the front page of the Daily Mail website. Here's a screenshot:

Numerous superb photos at the website

Summary: The situation began on Monday May 27th, 2013 when an ice jam formed at Bishop Rock, about 12 air miles (18 river miles) downstream from Galena. With no place to go, the Yukon River began to back up into Galena. As of this post, 90 percent of the village's roads are flooded, and every single home is reported to be either submerged or damaged by ice chunks. The Borealis B&B is specifically identified by name as being flooded. Some houses built at ground level have up to seven feet of water within, but even a few homes built on pilings to make them flood-resistant have experienced some minor flooding. The stench of diesel fuel and sewage is in the air. The only part of Galena currently dry is the airport, but water and ice are within one foot of the top of the dike protecting it. The News-Miner provides a short video shot by Raymond Cebulski of the Department of Interior when he overflew the area on May 28th:


Evacuations: There have been no injuries or fatalities reported so far. A few hardy souls have chosen to ride it out. However, many villagers have been evacuated by air, with flights provided not only by FEMA, but also by Samaritan's Purse, several other missionary groups, and unnamed private individuals. It's estimated that up to 145 people have evacuated to other towns such as Ruby, Fairbanks, and Anchorage, but more than 100 people are in two shelters set up in Galena at the old school and the Air Force base, which was reduced to standby status years ago.

The Quote: Eric Huntington, one of the evacuees who relocated to Ruby, wrote by e-mail “I can only describe it as a fearful, miserable day. With no electricity or running water and a limited supply of water and food, I wouldn't describe it as anything less than a life and death situation because we had almost no time to grab anything from our homes. ... Pray for the evacuees, but pray especially for the ones who decided to stay behind.”

Prognosis: National Weather Service meteorologist Christopher Cox says the flooding should clear when the ice jam breaks. Because the ice jam at Bishop Rock is now fracturing along the banks, it's expected to break in the next 24 hours. Next communities under threat are Koyokuk and Nulato, both downstream from Bishop Rock. Ed Plumb, hydrologist with the River Forecast Center, is also in Galena monitoring the situation. The Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center provides up-to-the-minute information.

Update May 29th: Ice jam still in place at Bishop Rock, water temporarily breached dike protecting the Galena airport. People and animals that remain are now staying on the high point of the dike or along the runway; it has been reported that there is no fresh water, cooking or sanitary facilities for those who remain. Galena flooding evacuee Shane Edwin says "The roads are all gone. The houses are flipped over. It's just trashed". The NWS still expects the ice jam to break late Wednesday or Thursday.

Update May 30th: The ice jam finally broke around 7:30 P.M. on May 29th, and water levels are now dropping. So far, the first downstream community at Koyokuk has been spared any flooding, although water levels have risen 15 inches. The next village further downstream, Nulato, is considered under threat.

People wanting to help provide resources to help the victims should direct their efforts toward the American Red Cross of Alaska, which is helping victims in Anchorage and Fairbanks, or the Salvation Army of Alaska

No comments:

Post a Comment