State officials are now calling the Yukon River flooding of spring 2013 -- which also flooded the communities of Circle, Eagle, Fort Yukon and Hughes -- one of the worst natural disasters to strike Alaskans since 1964, when the Good Friday earthquake ravaged Anchorage and Southcentral.
The spring flooding left almost every structure in the Interior Alaska community of Galena damaged in its wake. Yet life in the bush community of about 500 people, where residents face brutally cold winters, and where the only way in or out is by boat or plane, necessitate a can-do attitude, one where folks can spot opportunity from a mile away, even after rampant devastation. This eye for opportunity is nowhere more apparent than within the Galena school system, and at the Galena Interior Learning Academy (GILA), the town’s boarding school.
In the aftermath of the flood, GILA dorms and dining hall became the lifeline for displaced residents, housing and feeding residents who had nowhere else to go. While nearly every structure in the community was in some way damaged by the flood, GILA was spared, thanks to a dike wall that surrounds the airport, the school and some BLM buildings. Now, the Galena school system offers another kind of shelter for the community -- a return to normalcy, an economic driver, and the opportunity for students to pursue an education.