Flooding closes schools in Glennallen as high waters continue to inundate Alaska communities

water pools around houses and covers roadways
Water floods buildings in Glennallen. (Photo courtesy Kayla Bruno/Copper Valley IGA)

Schools in Glennallen are closed again Tuesday and the public sewer system is shutdown as heavy snowmelt runoff into creeks continues to cause flooding in town.

Glennallen is roughly 190 miles northeast of Anchorage and it’s among multiple Alaska communities hit by floodwaters from breakup on rivers and creeks. Ice jams have also caused major flooding in Interior and Southwest Alaska communities along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, and flood watches remain in effect Tuesday for stretches of the regions.

Officials say the floodwaters have already tore some buildings off their foundations and inundated others. Photos also show high waters swamping streets and airstrips. No injuries have been reported.

In Glennallen, the local utility is setting up Porta-Potties around the community, and area residents are asked to limit water usage. The state transportation department said there was water over a portion of the Glenn Highway on Monday, but the road remained open.

a vehicle drives on a flooded roadway
An Alaska State Trooper vehicle drives on a flooded roadway in Glennallen. (Photo courtesy Kayla Bruno/Copper Valley IGA)

A Bureau of Land Management field office was among local buildings flooded. BLM spokesperson Scott Claggett said the office is closed until further notice.

“BLM Glennallen field office is currently flooded, and electricity and sewage are currently down,” Claggett said. “It is a developing situation.”

The BLM hopes to resume some level of operations in Glennallen soon, but water damage and well contamination will need to be assessed.

“We do have portable generators and portable potties,” Claggett said. “We’re kind of looking at our options to make sure we have functional service as soon as possible.”

water pools around houses and covers roadways
Floodwaters closed schools and businesses in Glennallen, including a local grocery store, Copper Valley IGA. The store was providing emergency supplies to residents Monday and Tuesday, and says it will reopen on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy Kayla Bruno/Copper Valley IGA)

In the upper Yukon River village Circle, a roughly 400-mile drive to the north, recovery from weekend flooding continues.  

Kyle Wright, the environmental health director for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, said the ice and water damage is in line with historic breakup floods that hit Eagle in 2009 and Galena in 2013. Wright said a lot of homes in Circle were impacted.

“There was at least one that was carried all the way away, and there were others – there are others – that were moved that are beyond repair,” Wright said.

Wright said the community has also seen extensive damage to key infrastructure and buildings.

“They have no electricity; the generators were flooded,” he said. “The clinic, which is fairly new, built in the last few years, the insulation got wet so that will have to be remediated. The water plant got about a foot and half of water inside of it. The store looked like it got water up to maybe 6 feet or 8 feet inside – it’s pretty well soaked. The offices and the tribal hall had a lot of water in it. I know the teacher housing got flooded and looked like the school did also.”

Heating oil and sewage releases are a concern and the community well will need to be disinfected, Wright said. He said the Tanana Chiefs Conference has sent out bottled water and the village has a full water storage tank.

“So they do have a tank full of safe drinking water,” he said. “It’s a little harder to access because there’s no electricity for the pumps.”

As a result, restoring power in Circle is a priority, he said.

“The Alaska Energy Authority has been working with the village on that and they’re planning to send up a couple of generators soon to power the community temporarily,” he said.

Circle flooding
Flooding damage visible in Circle, during an aerial survey by a National Weather Service River Watch Team on Sunday. (From NWS Fairbanks)

Wright said the local tribe did an excellent job evacuating elders and children out of the community. It’s not clear how many people are still in Circle, which had a listed population of 42 in the 2020 census.

Residents are able to come and go as the Steese Highway out of Circle has remained open, according to Wright, despite at least one section where water is over the gravel road. 

Ice jam flooding continues to threaten communities downstream on the Yukon River. National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb said Fort Yukon suffered some flooding late Sunday.

“We had reports of water over roads, and some structures and homes getting water in them,” Plumb said.

Plumb said villages farther downriver are now facing the same slug of water and ice, from what he called “about a 40-mile run of ice.”

A River Watch Team from the weather service plans to fly over Stevens Village, the Rampart Canyon, Tanana and Galena on Tuesday.

Meanwhile in Southwest Alaska, a flurry of late-season snowfall on Tuesday had grounded aerial monitoring of the lower Kuskokwim River, said Dave Strubel, a hydrologist with the weather service’s Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center in Anchorage.

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

The Lower Kuskokwim’s area of greatest concern, Strubel said, is the stretch from Kalskag to Bethel at the mouth of the river. Those areas can expect ice jam flooding in the next day or two, he said.

He said heavy winter snowfall has been a major factor in the severity of this year’s breakup and ice jams.

“That, associated with the cool spring, is causing a chain reaction, so to speak, of a lot of snow and all of a sudden, it all melting at once,” he said.

According to Strubel, ice jam concerns on the Kuskokwim should subside in several days, followed by the Yukon in seven to 10 days.

RELATED: What’s going on with flooding in Alaska? A meteorologist explains.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him atcklint@alaskapublic.org.Read more about Chrishere.

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