Flooded Alaska Town Awaits Damage Assessment

June 7, 2013

Some residents have begun to repair their homes in a flood-raked town in Alaska’s interior instead of waiting for state emergency managers to officially assess the widespread damage.

About 90 percent of the homes in Galena were affected by last week’s flooding, which was caused by a 30-mile ice jam on the Yukon River. The jam receded days later, leaving a huge mess.

The flood washed out roads and the sewage lagoon and it knocked out power, which led to the spoilage of hundreds of pounds of game meat in freezers and refrigerators that could attract bears to the community of almost 500. Most of the residents were evacuated to other communities.

State emergency management spokesman Sam Hutchinson said Tuesday that meat has been placed in a dump truck and could be moved to the landfill 7 miles from the edge of town if the access road is repaired quickly enough. Other options are to incinerate the meat or take it to the landfill by helicopter.

“One way or another it will move,” Hutchinson said.

Responders say damage assessments are important for calculating emergency aid. But locals worry about delays causing additional harm, such as mold in floors and walls, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Tuesday.

About a third of about 130 Galena residents who did not evacuate attended a meeting Sunday. Also there was Sherry Argend, a representative of the state’s incident management team. She told the crowd that documenting reconstruction work will make it easier for residents to be reimbursed for their efforts.

Gov. Sean Parnell issued a disaster declaration last week for Galena and other Alaska communities affected by spring flooding. The declaration clears the way for state disaster aid.

On Monday, Jon Korta was ripping out the hardwood floors on a home he built two years ago. During the flood, water filled the house to a depth of more than 2 feet, and he spent two days on a 24-foot boat with his wife, his son and 12 dogs.

Korta, a city councilman and former Iditarod musher who operates a firewood business and bed and breakfast, said he has heard the arguments for waiting to make repairs.

“They’re telling some people to wait till they assess, but I’ve got to save my house,” he said. “I already pulled my insulation.”

Down the road, Patrick Yaska also had started his recovery work. He cut up wood to replace four cords of wood lost in the flood. A heater has not worked since the flood, but Yaska said he had a wood stove fired up and a camp stove set up to replace a flooded stove.

Not everything he lost is replaceable. His dog climbed out of a canoe and washed away during the flood.

“He was old, but he was my friend,” Yaska said.

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