Unusually warm weather, coupled with a higher-than-normal snow pack and higher-than-normal ice buildup, is causing flooding problems for the gateway communities of Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
Flooding along the Yukon River has washed away housing for preserve employees in Eagle and Eagle Village, and forced the evacuation Tuesday afternoon of at least one family living near the National Park Service unit.
NPS officials in Alaska say there "is a high potential of additional damage to National Park Service assets in Eagle and in several locations downstream within the 2.5 million-acre preserve. Flood waters are being driven by a combination of higher than usual snow pack (up to 150% of normal), higher than usual ice formation on the river (up to 140% of normal) and several days of unseasonably warm weather, which caused rapid melting and ice movement downstream on the Yukon."
Rangers resorted to a charter helicopter to evacuate a couple living just beyond the preserve boundary about 15 miles downstream of Eagle. The family had seen a family dog and riverboat crushed by ice Monday night and was in significant danger, according to NPS personnel. The couple was evacuated along with three other dogs Tuesday afternoon to Eagle.
NPS rangers were evaluating options of evacuating up to five other people who live on private land within the preserve and who are in danger from the ice and high water.
“We’re concerned about our neighbors and will be seeing how we can best help out,” said Greg Dudgeon, superintendent at Yukon-Charley Rivers. “We’ve got employees in Eagle who have lost property as well, so we’ll be looking out for them and moving in staff and supplies from Fairbanks to assist them.”
Eagle Village is located about 3-4 miles from the NPS field headquarters in Eagle. Floodwaters have damaged or destroyed many buildings in the village. Additionally, within Eagle at least two employee homes have had water damage and one of them had water up to the second story of their home. An estimated 10 homes in Eagle had been damaged or destroyed, and an estimated 30 of the area's 125 residents were homeless Tuesday morning.
Superintendent Dudgeon said Tuesday afternoon that several Eagle Village residents were reported to be stranded by the flood waters, and that a second Park Service helicopter would either evacuate those residents or bring them supplies.
Rangers have flown reconnaissance flights up and down river from Eagle and reported significant ice between Eagle and the Canadian border that could cause additional ice jams and flooding as it moves downstream in the next several days.
The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for the area through Thursday afternoon.
THE FLOODING AT EAGLE IS REPORTED TO BE THE WORST FLOODING IN RECORDED HISTORY. A LARGE SURGE OF WATER IS EXPECTED TO MOVE DOWNRIVER WHEN THE ICE JAM IN EAGLE BREAKS. AREAS DOWNSTREAM OF CIRCLE COULD ALSO EXPERIENCE SIGNIFICANT FLOODING. WATER LEVELS COULD RISE VERY RAPIDLY WHEN AN ICE JAM FORMS AND STRUCTURES NEAR THE YUKON RIVER FROM CIRCLE TO THE YUKON RIVER BRIDGE COULD BE IMPACTED BY FLOODING. THIS INCLUDES THE VILLAGES OF FORT YUKON...BEAVER...AND STEVENS VILLAGE.
Park staff and NPS responders from Fairbanks have assisted the Eagle and Eagle Village communities by providing packaged meals, water and towels to the Eagle school, which is serving as an evacuation center. The staff has also relocated its own computer equipment, historical documents and other vulnerable supplies to NPS buildings on higher ground in Eagle.
After the flooding subsides, Yukon-Charley staff plans to assess damage downstream to resources in the preserve.
Flooding and ice movement along the riverbanks is common, but this year damage may go significantly above the usual flood levels. The preserve maintains several historical public use cabins along the river including the landmark two-story Slaven's Roadhouse at Coal Creek. Other smaller cabins and artifacts from the early 1900s and earlier dot the riverbanks.
An additional concern is that house debris, fuel tanks, and other waste from damaged residences will wash through the preserve this spring causing possible cleanup work for the NPS.