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Second remote Alaska village evacuates in face of river flooding

Alex DeMarban
The National Weather Service issued flood warnings to the villages of Chuathbaluk and Aniak.
Courtesy: Alaska Department of Natural Resources
Relief workers from the state flew into the Y-K region to assess the damage
Courtesy: Alaska Department of Natural Resources
Medical supplies, including medications, first aid kits, hand sanitation, float coats and satellite communication equipment have been flown in, according to health officials.
Courtesy: Alaska Department of Natural Resources
More than 50 Crooked Creek residents continue taking shelter at the Donlin Creek Gold Mine, about 10 miles away.
Courtesy: Alaska Department of Natural Resources
People are moving cars, pets and belongings to higher ground and are taking other precautions like storing water, officials say.
Courtesy: Alaska Department of Natural Resources
A Crooked Creek resident stands near his boat and a home flooded by the Kusko River.
Courtesy: Alaska Department of Natural Resources
The Kuskokwim River was jammed by ice, flooding Crooked Creek
Courtesy: Alaska Department of Natural Resources
The Kuskokwim River threatened villages about 100 miles upstream of Bethel
Courtesy: Alaska Department of Natural Resources
The Kusko's flooding forced the evacuation of 53 Crooked Creek residents to nearby Donlin Creek on May 10, 2011, according to the Y-K Health Corp.
Courtesy: Alaska Department of Natural Resources

A second Alaska village has evacuated residents to the hub town of Bethel as sheets of river ice slam and crash down the Kuskokwim River, causing floods as they plug up in bends on their way toward the Bering Sea.  

This time the evacuation was for Napaskiak, which flew 62 of its women, children, elderly and sick to Bethel Tuesday night, said Jeremy Zidek, spokesman with the state division of emergency management.  

With 32 evacuees from the village of Kwethluk having already fled to the Southwest Alaska city of 6,200 on Sunday, four workers with the American Red Cross of Alaska turned the Kilbuck Elementary School into a shelter Tuesday night.

The flooding was minor in Kwethluk and even less in Napaskiak, population 428, where the river slightly crested its bank to pool water in low-lying areas, Zidek said, referring to reports from the National Weather Service's River Watch program.

No one was hurt, and displaced residents were expected to return to their villages by Thursday. The evacuations were ordered by local officials as a precaution, said Zidek.

Both villages have declared disasters, but neither of their statements requested a disaster declaration from the state, Zidek said. Local and regional groups as well as the Red Cross have managed the response and picked up the tab for the evacuations.  

The state could bear more costs if it declares a disaster, a move that could free up state money to pay for such expenses as the flights and lodging, including for 16 residents from Kwethluk who stayed at a Bethel hotel. No such state declaration is currently in the works.

By Wednesday afternoon, the immediate flooding danger had passed for the villages as the ice-clogged breakup front moved farther downriver toward the village of Eek near the mouth, Zidek said.

State emergency officials planned to soon fly to Kwethluk, population 741, to assess damage there. Flooding early in the week was said to inundate the village with three to four feet of water.  

Statewide, much of the breakup threat is easing, with nothing more than light flooding experienced in the dozens of villages that dot rivers. Officials are turning their attention to the lower Yukon River, parts of which are still frozen, he said. There's also communities like Buckland in colder Northwest Alaska to watch; the village often floods as the Kobuk River breaks up, he said.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com