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A cold winter plus a sudden heat wave equals a bad breakup season in Alaska, and sure enough: Here come the floods.
Yukon and Kuskokwim river villages have flooded — or are flooding — this week, forcing families to escape to higher ground, hydrologists said today. Other communities are watching for high water.
An ice jam near the city of Eagle — and nearby Eagle Village — led to evacuations in both Yukon River communities, said Ed Plumb, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
UPDATE: “The old village of Eagle is totally destroyed. Some buildings have water up to the second story in Eagle Village. And there are estimates that the water right now is 10 feet is above the all time record flood stage, for Eagle," Plumb said.
The river forecast center estimates the flood left about half of local families homeless, or unable to get to their homes. They've just announced a flood warning for the town of Circle, downriver from Eagle, meaning major flooding is expected to hit there next.
Carl Stapler, a ranger with the National Park Service in Eagle, says the flood sunk the old village of Eagle.
"All the buildings, well all the houses along the riverfront in the old village are under water. We’ve actually lost the clinic and the VPSO office," he said.
About three miles away in the new city of Eagle, three or four feet of water was lapping against the buildings and people started to salvage food out of the store, he said.
Aniak, a village of about 500 people on the Kuskokwim River, is flooding today too.
A team of researchers there was evacuated from a hotel at 1 a.m., said Robin Radlein, the hydrologist in charge at the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center in Anchorage.
The center has issued a flood watch for the Kuskokwim River town of McGrath and received reports Sunday of flooding in nearby villages of Red Devil and Sleetmute.
“Today they’re back below flood state in Red Devil. All that’s left for them now is the cleanup,” Radlein said.
On the Yukon, the ice jam near Eagle threatens to send a wall of water toward Circle, a community of about 100 people on the edge of the Yukon Flats.
“This big slug of water is going to come down ... We have this watch out for potential flooding from Eagle down to Circle City on the Yukon River,” Plumb said.
No one’s been injured, he said.
Flooding reduced parts of the Taylor Highway to one lane of traffic this morning, according to The Department of Transportation.
The eastern Interior saw record high temperatures last week that quickly melted snow, pushing water in the river, he said. That, combined with a winter of heavy snowfall and thick river ice made perfect conditions for ice jams that can act as dams that flood riverside communities.
The Alaska Railroad on Sunday announced it had stopped running trains north of Talkeetna and south of Hurricane because of “wash out and ice conditions.”
The closure interrupts freight traffic between Fairbanks and Anchorage.
Passengers who were headed from Fairbanks to Anchorage Sunday were scheduled to unload at Hurricane and make the rest of the trip by bus, the railroad said.
Check back later for updates.
Click here for the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center's map, showing flood warnings and flood watches along the rivers.