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Rural Alaska

Second remote Alaska village evacuates in face of river flooding

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published May 16, 2012

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)

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