Flooding eased a bit across the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Saturday morning as water levels in the Talkeetna River, Susitna River and Montana Creek dropped. As many as half of Talkeetna's residents evacuated their homes on Friday as the Talkeetna River hit its second-highest level ever, according to NOAA's river level website.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell made a verbal disaster declaration for the Mat-Su and Kenai Peninsula boroughs, with a written declaration expected to follow on Saturday.
"While the full extent of the damage remains unknown, it is apparent that the high winds and severe flooding will leave communities in need of state assistance to recover," Parnell said in a press release. "The emergency responders and managers in the local jurisdictions have done a tremendous job"
Talkeetna Fire Chief Ken Farina said the evacuation came after a fight to plug a breached revetment barrier was lost to the surging Talkeetna River, sending water into town. The river crested at 5 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
But by digging two huge diversion channels, emergency responders limited damage in the center of town. By dawn Saturday, many of them – including Talkeetna Fire Captain and Operations Chief Tim Morgan – were heading off to catch up on sleep after a long night of work.
While the diversion channels helped, a National Weather Service flood warning continues through 10 p.m. Sunday, and another storm is approaching. However, forecasters expect it to be less severe.
"Department of Transportation personnel led by Steve Hanson dug a diversion channel around the Talkeetna state airstrip that re-directed water out to the Twister Creek slough," said Maureen McLaughlin of Talkeetna, a public information officer at Denali National Park who was helping out during the storm.
Meanwhile, assistant Mat-Su Borough Manager George Hays flew over flooded areas from Sutton to Talkeetna for about six hours on Friday and witnessed areas of damage.
"For total devastation, it was all up and down the Little Susitna (River)," he said. "It was multiple houses in various depths of water. A lot of clean up work is going to have to be done. There wasn't much of a way the citizens could have gotten around in the eastern part of Takeetna without maybe boats.
"As we were going along the (Alaska) railroad tracks to see how much devastation there was along the banks … there was a stretch of 30-40 feet where there was nothing under the rails themselves," Hays said. "Just the steel rails going along with nothing underneath. If a train would have come along, it absolutely would have caved right in."
Hays reported the sighting to the Alaska Railroad, which had repair crews working on Friday and Saturday. All train traffic north of Wasilla was cancelled through Wednesday as repair crews focused on damage along a 70-mile stretch from Willow to Gold Creek. A 500-foot-long washout just south of Gold Creek (which is some 35 miles north of Talkeetna) left track dangling in the air. Repair equipment arrived Friday night, and fill material was being hauled in from the railroad's quarry at Curry.
Updates on the flooding situation in the Mat-Su are available here.
Farther south on the Kenai Peninsula, Seward, which is still reeling from last week's heavy rain, got another 3 to 5 inches on Saturday. The Resurrection River at Exit Glacier Bridge on the outskirts of town rose more than 3 feet Saturday afternoon. That left the river at 18.8 feet, which is classified as moderate flood stage. Get updates here or here.
The big Kenai River continued to rise steadily, too, and is expected to crest at 15.8 feet on Monday. At Copper Landing, a town along the river, moderate flood stage is considered 15.5 feet.
Contact Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org