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Mat-Su rains raise river levels, flood homes

Several homes in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough were flooded by waters that also covered stretches of two minor roads Tuesday morning, as heavy rains expected to turn to snow later in the day continue to drench Southcentral Alaska.

Mat-Su Borough Emergency Services director Casey Cook said that five to 10 homes in Willow had experienced flooding, in areas including the washed-out roads -- West Kenny Boulevard and Burrows Road.

Willow Creek was running at roughly 10 times the volume it had last week and 3 feet higher, at nearly 5 and a half feet, according to a U.S. Geological Survey gauge. Roiling brown water carried logs downstream near Willow-Fishhook Road, eating away at a few roads and flooding others. Mat-Su Borough road crews posted road closure signs at various potentially impassable roads including West Deneki Drive.

Just off Deneki, Kevin Vance had a creek where his driveway usually was Tuesday afternoon and more water running from Willow Creek through his yard. Vance and his family were getting ready to move their two horses to higher ground from a creekside paddock.

But Vance said that, at least as of mid-afternoon, flooding didn't seem as bad as several years ago and he wasn't too worried. His home is one of the oldest on the creek, he said. "It's been high before."

To the South, Houston Mayor Virgie Thompson said Tuesday that one home was threatened, with two more near rising water. She said neighbors in the affected area reported water over the banks of the Little Susitna River near North Maid Marion Drive in Houston.

Emergency officials were monitoring high water along the Little Su in Houston and near Schrock Road.

Carol Gibbs lives along the Little Su off Schrock and told her husband to get ready to move to a neighbor's property on higher ground if necessary.

"Pack up the dogs, the food, important stuff, and let the rest go," Gibbs said. She was at 3 Bears on Pittman Road on Tuesday, showing videos of the river eating through her backyard.

Gibbs wasn't too worried about her home, but had already lost property.

"Land is land, and God's gonna take it," she said.

Borough spokeswoman Patty Sullivan said Tuesday morning that water was flowing across the flooded section of Burrows Road at about 1 foot in depth.

"Burrows Road is under a 50-foot swath of water," Sullivan said.

The rain was part of a weather system affecting much of the state Tuesday, prompting coastal flooding watches in Southeast Alaska and small-craft advisories between Barrow and Bethel. Anchorage was set to see its first accumulating snowfall Tuesday, with Fairbanks and other parts of the Interior under winter storm warnings.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Snider said late Tuesday morning that a total of seven flooding gauges on rivers and other waterways across the Southcentral region were reporting floodwaters Tuesday morning.

No major traffic disruptions had been caused by Tuesday's flooding, Sullivan said, and the forecast is expected to improve later in the week.

"We've been here in 2012 we've been here in 2006 with federal-level flood disasters," Sullivan said. "What's different this time is that the weather prediction is turning to snow, then cloudy and clear."

The rain was expected to turn to snow Tuesday afternoon, with waters expected to rise no more than an additional half-foot in waterways before tapering off. A flood advisory remained in effect until just after noon Wednesday.

"The Talkeetna River, Montana Creek, Willow Creek, and Little Susitna River will begin to fall more sharply during the day Wednesday," the National Weather Service reported shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday.

A winter weather advisory was also in effect for the region Tuesday afternoon, with snow accumulations of up to 5 inches at higher elevations in the area of Willow, Talkeetna and Cantwell, with the most snow expected north toward Denali National Park and Preserve. Blowing snow could make travel difficult along the Parks Highway, the NWS reported.

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