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Yukon River swamps village of Circle; flood warning issued for Fort Yukon

Michelle Theriault Boots
Flooding in the Yukon River village of Circle, May 19, 2013.
Scott Lindsey
Flooding in the Yukon River village of Circle, May 19, 2013.
Scott Lindsey
Flooding in the village of Circle, Sunday, May 19, 2013.
Alaska State Trooper Andrew Neason
Flooding in the Yukon River village of Circle, May 19, 2013.
Scott Lindsey

Update 3:30 p.m. Monday:

The National Weather Services has issued a flood warning for the village of Fort Yukon.

According to a newly-released forecast, a large sheet of ice about 12 miles upstream from the village is blocking the river channel. The ice is causing widespread flooding to an area of lowlands southeast of the village. The NWS warns that when the sheet erodes the movement could "act much like a dam break" and cause major flooding in the village.

"This ice jam is likely to break within the next five hours releasing a large surge of water and ice," the NWS wrote in a forecast posted online. "This could flood at least the portions of Fort Yukon which were flooded in 2009."

Residents are advised to protect lives and property and to monitor the situation.

Update, 11 a.m. Monday:

A slug of ice and water that caused major flooding in the Yukon River village of Circle Sunday has stalled 12-15 miles upstream of Fort Yukon, the next village in its path, the National Weather Service said.

The river has flooded  up to a mile from the river bank, said Fairbanks NWS hydrologist Ed Plumb Monday.

Water is rising in Fort Yukon, Plumb said, but only minor flooding in low-lying areas is expected until the breakup front pushes past the village. That could take anywhere from hours to days to happen, Plumb said.

The worst-case scenario would be if the breakup front meets stronger, less deteriorated ice observed down river of Fort Yukon and jams there.

“It has a higher likelihood of jamming downriver as water moves into more resistant and stronger ice,” he said. “That’s when you could see some potentially more significant flooding in Fort Yukon.”

Earlier story:

Spring breakup on the Yukon River flooded the Interior village of Circle on Sunday, swamping most of the structures in town, knocking cabins off their foundations and displacing residents.

The trouble started at 3 or 4 in the morning Sunday, when residents began to notice ice on the river moving, said village chief Jessica Boyle.

By 9 a.m. the ice was "pretty much at the tip of the (river) bank," she said. "Then it just started pouring into the village."

The whole downtown area of the village of about 80 residents flooded, including the clinic, church and store, she said.

Circle is located at the end of the Steese Highway, about 125 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

The flooding in Circle was worse than in May 2009, when severe breakup floods hammered Yukon River villages, according to an advisory from the National Weather Service's Alaska Region Headquarters.

At least 10 houses in the downtown area flooded, Boyle said. Some came off their foundations. Many will likely be total losses.

"We've got houses 100 feet from where they originally were," she said.

Residents prepared for the possibility of flooding ahead of time. This year, people stored drinking water, made sure elders had overnight bags packed and made plans for high-ground shelter before the water arrived.

By noon on Sunday the water was receding, said state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management spokesman Jeremy Zidek.

All village residents and pets were accounted for, he said.

The school was dry and power was on Sunday afternoon, Boyle said.

But there was lingering concern about fuel and gas spills.

"The whole downtown area smells like diesel gas," she said.

State emergency responders have been dispatched to Circle, Zidek said.

A National Weather Service flood warning remains in effect for Circle until Monday evening.

Seasonal flooding happens when ice on the Yukon River begins to break up and form dams that back up water into villages.

The surge of ice and water that caused flooding in Circle was expected to reach Fort Yukon sometime between Sunday evening and Monday morning before continuing downriver to communities like Beaver, Stevens Village and Rampart, according to the NWS. As the breakup front travels downriver, it is expected to spread out, reducing the amount the river will rise.

Still, ice jams or other resistance to the breakup front could spur more flooding, according to the NWS.

 

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

 

 

National Weather Service Alaska river breakup info
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com