An early melt followed by a spring coldsnap has led to ice dams that have caused rivers to overflow their banks and submerge communities
Alaska’s governor has issued a disaster declaration and ordered state authorities to assist communities as they seek to bail out from exceptional spring flooding that has submerged communities in the hardest-hit regions.
The measure, announced by Mike Dunleavy on 15 May, comes as the National Weather Service, the federal met office, has predicted continued flooding along the Yukon, Tanana and Kuskokwim rivers.
“We will make sure flood-impacted communities receive critical life-saving assistance while we simultaneously provide information and warnings to those who could still be impacted by ice jams. This is a dynamic situation that is changing on an hour-by-hour basis.” Mr Dunleavy said in a statement published on 15 May.
State authorities had already dispatched the Alaska Organised Militia, a type of state home guard, to the Bethel area on Monday to clear debris from the communities of Crooked Creek and Kwethluk. Other AKOM servicemembers have been deployed to the town of Circle, which has been particularly hard hit by the flooding of the Yukon River.
Issuing a disaster declaration makes it possible to use state funds to pay for emergency-protection measures and to repair damaged essential infrastructure. Individual assistance will provide people with money to repair their homes or to pay for temporary accommodation.
Ice jams occur every spring in Alaska. When river ice breaks up, areas of open water appear and blocks of ice are carried downriver. Sometimes, though, they get stuck and prevent the blocks behind them from flowing past. These clumped together blocks eventually form dams, which then cause flooding.
This year, the extent of the flooding is unusual. An early melt of the snowpack and a late cold snap meant that ice blocks that broke off during the thaw had trouble flowing downstream when the temperatures fell, creating solid ice dams.
This is the second year running Alaska has seen significant flooding. Last May, the village of Manley Hot Springs was submerged after an ice dam formed on the Tanana River.
In September, it was western Alaska that found itself underwater after the remnants of typhoon Merbok, which had generated gusts of 145 km / h, left homes in Nome, Golovin, Hooper Bay, Newtok and Scammon Bay inundated. No lives were lost and no-one was injured, but several homes were washed out to sea.
A previous version of this article stated that the flooding was taking place in south-western Alaska. It is actually happening throughout the state. We regret the error.
Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal