An ice jam downstream from Buckland has caused significant flooding throughout the Northwest Alaska village.
Water levels began to rise Wednesday night and were continuing to rise Thursday, said Karen Endres, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
Ice jammed on the Buckland River about a half-mile downstream from the village of more than 400 people, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Flood waters hit the bottom of most homes in the village but hadn’t yet flooded into homes by Thursday afternoon, Zidek said. Utility services were not impacted so far, he said.
People from two households evacuated their homes to stay with others in different parts of the community, but according to Zidek, village officials said an emergency shelter was not needed for the time being.
The road to the airport was flooded, but Zidek said the runway was still above water and planes were able to fly in and out of the village Thursday.
Buckland routinely sees flooding, but community members have said this is the most severe flooding in years. The village sits along the riverbank on low, flat land about 75 miles southeast of Kotzebue.
“This is a community that prepares for flooding every spring. ... In this case, they said they were surprised by how fast the water came up,” Zidek said. “I don’t think they anticipated that happening.”
Kayden Iqitqiraq Tickett said that normal spring flooding only impacts uptown Buckland, so his family was surprised Wednesday when water started pouring into downtown, where they live. The 18-year-old helped his family tie down things in the yard in hopes that their belongings would not drift away.
The water was flowing in so quickly that they didn’t have time to move their snowmachines to higher ground, and Iqitqiraq Tickett said they’re now submerged in water.
On Thursday, he watched as his neighbors boated or canoed through the village.
“It’s not something you see everyday. It’s kind of weird,” he said. “There’s a lot of gas floating around, a lot of junk floating, too.”
Bessie Hadley, who lives in uptown Buckland, said she quickly moved her truck and snowmachine to higher ground. By the time she was walking back to her house from parking the truck, the water was already so high that it poured into her boots.
As the water continued to rise, Hadley said big chunks of ice drifted into the village, striking the sides of some of the houses.
The back of Hadley’s house is sitting in water but she said the level seemed steady Thursday. She’s hopeful the water level will recede in the next few days.
The weather service issued a flood warning early Thursday that is in place until Saturday. It wasn’t immediately clear when the flooding may subside.
“Water levels are expected to remain high and fluctuate up and down until the downstream ice jam clears,” the warning said.
There’s limited ice upstream, so Zidek said that the hope is that as the water level rises it will push the ice through and allow the river to flow again.
Ice jams can be persistent and Endres said the chunks of ice that break free from the jam could eventually meet sea ice as the Buckland River opens into Kotzebue Sound.
The city is working with state and borough officials to monitor the situation, and Zidek said numerous groups are on hand to respond if needed.