Breakup brings serious flooding to Yukon and Kuskokwim River communities

Glennallen flooding
An aerial view of flooding in Glennallen, posted Sunday by state officials. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has issued a disaster declaration after flooding from ice jams and snowmelt over the weekend hit several communities along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb said Eagle, Circle and Fort Yukon — on the banks of the Yukon in the Interior — all experienced high water. The water and ice level rose dramatically Friday night at Eagle, near the Alaska-Canada border, he said.

“Water and ice went over the bank, up over downtown, water into the Falcon Inn right there on Front Street in Eagle,” Plumb said. “And the road between Eagle and Eagle Village, which goes upriver, along the river, was completely covered with ice and water. And there were some structures too that were surrounded by ice and water.”

The water receded rapidly at Eagle on Saturday, leaving behind blocks of ice.

“As of Sunday, the road between Eagle and Eagle Village was still impassable… due to stranded giant ice chunks,” Plumb said.

Plumb said the large volume of water ice released downstream of Eagle and carried on toward Circle — what he described as “80 to 90 miles of bank-to-bank ice running down the river.” Plumb said the ice jammed past Circle, causing water to rise dramatically in the community Saturday night. Circle is home to about 75 people and located about 160 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

“Reports of about a 10-foot rise in 30 minutes in Circle Saturday evening,” Plumb said. “Nearly all of the homes and structures in Circle were impacted and flooded, and preliminary estimates indicate this could be near record flooding.”

Communications were down in Circle on Sunday, but according to Alaska State Troopers all Circle residents are accounted for, and no one was injured.

Circle flooding
Flooding damage visible in Circle, during an aerial survey by a National Weather Service River Watch Team on Sunday. (National Weather Service Fairbanks)
Circle flooding
“We are saddened to see the damages from the ice jam flooding in Circle over the weekend. Our thoughts go out to those that have lost their homes or property during this devastating flood,” tweeted the National Weather Service. (National Weather Service Fairbanks)

The jam below Circle released Sunday, leaving behind areas of standing water, ice flows and a lot of damaged homes and other structures – some of them lifted off their foundations.

Residents were able to get to higher ground, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesperson for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He credits locals with good community preparation and response.

“Some elders have been evacuated to Fairbanks and looking at efforts to move children to Fairbanks, so they can allow for clean-up operations,” he said. “There’s no immediate shelter needs in Circle at this time. They haven’t requested anything from us at the state. Most people are staying with friends or with family members in Fairbanks.”

From Circle, the surge of water and ice then moved downstream past Fort Yukon where it jammed again, causing flooding that began Sunday night.

Plumb said the large surge of ice and water is expected to continue to cause problems as it pushes down the Yukon River and collides with stronger ice. The next communities in line are Beaver, Stevens Village and Rampart.

The state is helping with basic needs, including restoration of electricity, said Zidek, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy has issued a disaster declaration to help with flood-related costs. According to Zidek, it so far covers Circle and Eagle on the Yukon, Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River and Glennallen, where there’s been heavy snow melt run off into Moose Creek.

“We’ve seen a number of buildings that have water in it, cars that have been flooded,” Zidek said.

Crooked Creek flooding
Flooded cars and equipment are visible in this aerial view of Crooked Creek. (Kyle Van Perseum/Alaska-Pacific Forecast Center)

Zidek said an emergency management specialist has been dispatched to Glenallen, and a local incident management team has been activated. Alaska Department of Transportation spokesperson John Perreault said workers are on site to mitigate impacts along the Glenn Highway.

“There’s water up along the sides of the highway all along from Mile 157 all the way into Glennallen,” he said. “Right around that milepost 185 to 187 around Glennallen there are either pilot car or flagging operations.”

Perreault said, as of Sunday, there was some water over the highway in Glennallen at about mile 185, but the road remained open.

Meanwhile in Southwest Alaska, damage assessment continued after a 15-mile-long ice jam on the Kuskokwim River led to flooding in the communities of Red Devil and Crooked Creek over the weekend.

Crooked Creek, along the banks of the river, is about 140 miles northeast of Bethel and home to roughly 90 people. Officials say everyone in Crooked Creek is accounted for, and Donlin Gold and the American Red Cross are working to shelter and feed people impacted by the flooding. Photos of the community show water covering sections of the runway and roads, and pooling around homes.

Crooked Creek flooding
Parts of the runway and access roads at the Crooked Creek airport are underwater. (Kyle Van Perseum/Alaska-Pacific Forecast Center)
Water floods properties. (Kyle Van Perseum/Alaska-Pacific Forecast Center)
Crooked Creek flooding
A small outbuilding washed from its foundations after the Kuskokwim River inundated much of Crooked Creek. (Kyle Van Perseum/Alaska-Pacific Forecast Center)

Kyle Van Peursem, with the federal Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center, said Napaimute and Aniak would start seeing high water next. He cautioned residents to be prepared.

“It’s really important and we really stress having a plan beforehand,” he said. “Where are people going to go? Where are your high ground points? Is there a place where you can shelter? Removing equipment, ATVs, vehicles away from the river and getting them to a safe place. Making sure boats are tied up and easily accessible, in case that is your only access point.”

The National Weather Service has a flood watch for communities from Napaimute through Aniak in effect until Tuesday morning.

The weather service also says high water levels will likely persist across a big chunk of the eastern Interior through this week and into next week.

KYUK’s Francisco Martínezcuello contributed reporting to this story.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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