Galena, Alaska, residents evacuate when ice dam causes major flooding

Homes and other buildings are shown flooded in Galena, Alaska, May 27, 2013, in this picture released by the National Weather Service. AP Photo/National Weather Service - Ed Plumb

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Floodwaters are pushing higher in a remote Alaska town, lifting homes off foundations and threatening to breach a dike protecting the airport, virtually the only dry spot left.

Responders say most residents of Galena have been evacuated after a 30-mile ice jam on the Yukon River caused major flooding this week in the community of almost 500, washing out roads and submerging buildings.

The National Guard flew 32 more people and 19 dogs to Fairbanks Tuesday night.

National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb flew over the river Wednesday and says the ice jam remains firmly in place, despite 80 degree temperatures.

Water went over low areas of the dike Tuesday, then the water level fell. Plumb says the water again is rising close to the edge of the dike.

National Weather Service meteorologist Christopher Cox said 90 percent of the community's roads were flooded, and many buildings had 7 feet of water in them. Some of the people who were displaced said they escaped in rafts battered by ice chunks and floating debris.

Evacuee Shane Edwin stepped off a flight to Fairbanks on Tuesday afternoon and described the scene he left behind as "a whole bunch of chaos."

"The roads are all gone," he said. "The houses are flipped over. It's just trashed. I couldn't grab anything, not even my ID. The water came so fast."

Homes and other buildings are shown flooded in Galena, Alaska, May 27, 2013, in this picture released by the National Weather Service.
Homes and other buildings are shown flooded in Galena, Alaska, May 27, 2013, in this picture released by the National Weather Service.
AP Photo/National Weather Service - Ed Plumb

State emergency management spokesman Jeremy Zidek told The Associated Press water went over low areas of the dike protecting the airport at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The water level fell after that, but he said there was still the threat of the water topping the dike again. He said that's why the state took the step of bringing in military aircraft to aid in the evacuations of anyone else who wanted to leave.

Evacuations have been running for several days, with many residents flying to Fairbanks 270 miles to the east. Gov. Sean Parnell's office said in a release that the sewer and water systems at the Galena shelter failed, forcing additional evacuations.

Parnell's office put the number of evacuations at 300, as of noon Tuesday. Zidek said that number was fluid. He could not say how many people remained.

Parnell surveyed the flooding Tuesday afternoon with Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Department personnel have been aiding the Tanana Chiefs Conference in evacuations, Parnell's office said.

The flooding in Galena should clear when the ice jam breaks. But the forecaster, Cox, said it's unclear when that will occur.

Parnell said the flooding is expected to worsen before the waters begin to recede.

When the jam breaks, the downriver community of Koyukuk will be at risk of flooding.

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