Coming storm lacks punch of earlier deluges

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 26, 2012 

Water levels are still dropping across areas of Alaska hit hard by recent flooding as yet another storm, in a well-defined spiral of clouds, headed north from the Gulf of Alaska on Wednesday.

National Weather Service meteorologists aren't expecting the "cyclonic flow" to pack as much of a punch as two other September storms that brought high wind and heavy rain to Southcentral Alaska. And while there is more rain coming, the weather service's River Forecast Center does not expect further flooding, only a prolonged period of high water.

The comma-shaped storm carried by hurricane-force winds was expected to spin out over the northern Gulf of Alaska late Wednesday and dump more rain on Prince William Sound. It is not forecast to bring comparable amounts of water and wind over the mountains into Southcentral as other recent, powerful storms, according to the weather service.

"It's going to blow but not as much as the last couple times," said forecaster Dan Peterson. "Breezy and rain."

That's welcome, if tentative, news for flood-struck areas of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Kenai Peninsula. In the Mat-Su, the flooding damaged some 823 homes, a borough spokeswoman said. Aerial assessments showed at least 14 homes destroyed by the flooding.

In Kenai, officials say it's too early to tell how many homes have been affected. According to early estimates, about 14,000 people have had some kind of impact.

Water in the Susitna Valley, in places like Talkeetna and Willow, had receded back to normal levels but was still above flood stage along the Yentna River and on Alexander Creek and elsewhere near the mouth of the Susitna River, said hydrologist Celine Van Breukelen. It remained trapped in some places, too, she said.

"It seems to be leveling out," Van Breukelen said. "There is still definitely ponding in low-lying areas, but as far as new flooding there isn't anything."

SAFE ON THE DECK -- WITH ANIMALS

When the Yentna jumped its banks last week, it separated Ron Allen and his wife, Tina, who were married about two months earlier and recently built a cabin near the river as their new home. Allen said he left Tina behind with he couple's 17 chickens, 16 sled dogs, five goats and two geese while he went to Willow to finish moving out of their old house and get supplies.

The flooding trapped Tina Allen at the cabin, where she kept all the animals safe and close together on a deck, with the water just below the deck and cabin, which are built atop pilings.

"The cabin's fine, and she's fine, but it's been tough," Allen said. "It's stressful. Extremely stressful."

By Wednesday, the water had come down enough that Tina, still able to communicate by cellphone, could see the ground in spots, so she moved some of the animals off the deck. Tina even installed a propane heater they hadn't planned on using until it got colder, Allen said.

Allen said he'd sent food for Tina with a friend who delivered it by barge, but he said he now needed to get food sent in for the animals.

"She's been on her own, kind of perilous, but she's a tough girl, raised out in the wilderness," Allen said. "If she wasn't a strong woman and I didn't have confidence, I'd be super worried."

Farther to the south, on the Kenai River, gauges showed the flooding reached its highest point Monday in Cooper Landing. Forecasters were still waiting to see if it would top out downstream Wednesday, said Van Breukelen, the river forecaster.

FLOOD WARNINGS CONTINUE

With the next storm rolling in, there's some uncertainty about how long it will take for the water to return to normal on the Kenai, which is closed to boating until at least Friday.

"It's continuing to stay high. It's about a quarter-foot below moderate flood stage, and we're predicting that it'll slowly recede into next week," Van Breukelen said. "It'll extend the crest. Sort of elongate the process."

Flood warnings for the Kenai River from Kenai Lake westward to the river's mouth and to the south in the Seward area have been extended until 4 p.m. Sunday. Seward could see as much as 6 inches of rain by the weekend, and while streams could rise, they weren't expected to overflow their banks.

Meantime, about half of the nearly 70 hunters trapped by high water in the Denali Highway area have escaped, according to Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters. One man on a four wheeler, Wasilla resident Bart Barnes, is presumed drowned after trying to cross Butte Creek with two others on Monday, Peters said.

"We advised them not to cross. I think it was the day before," Peters said. "One person made it across. One tried and lost his four wheeler and had to go back to the same side he started from."

The water carried Barnes away. He hasn't been seen since, Peters said.

Troopers had spoken to the group in their efforts to warn dozens of hunters in the area to avoid crossing the rain-bloated waterways. They also used helicopters to ferry about 10 people -- including children, an elderly man and someone with a heart condition -- out of the area, Peters said. Many others stayed behind because they didn't want to abandon their equipment or game they'd shot, she said.

Some of the local hunters were extending their trips with the help of freshly killed moose they were eating, Peters said.

"If you look at the situation, the people that are out there, they went out with gear to go hunting. They're prepared to stay in the woods," she said. "Certainly they didn't intend to stay for as long a time as they have."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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