Kuskokwim ice jam forces village evacuation

Residents of Crooked Creek evacuated the tiny Kuskokwim River village after floodwater and ice washed through their homes Monday and knocked several houses from their foundations, Alaska emergency management officials said Tuesday.

The water rose vertically about 30 feet in a short time, surpassing its record level during floods there in 1964, according to the National Weather Service.

"As far as long-term residents can recall, this is the worst they've ever seen," said weather service hydrologist Ben Balk.

Early reports said water was inside 70 percent of the village's houses, said Jeremy Zidek, a public information officer with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Some houses were completely submerged; others had broken free from foundations and moved a short distance, Balk said.

On Monday morning, the villagers called nearby Donlin Creek Mine, about 10 miles to the north, and the mine sent a helicopter and a plane, Zidek said.

"Donlin Creek came and picked them up with their aircraft and transported 47 people to the mine there, where they're being sheltered and provided with food and a place to stay," Zidek said.

No injuries or medical issues related to the flood were reported, Zidek said. Medical personnel at the village clinic were among those who stayed behind.

About 90 people remained, and some of them headed to the school or to higher ground for shelter. A specialist in emergency management is on the ground near Crooked Creek to assist, Zidek said.

Along with flooded homes, the village's fuel tank storage area appeared to be affected, but assessing the full extent of the damage was proving difficult, he said, because the water was still high. Some power poles had been knocked down and electricity generation was disrupted, Zidek said.

The persistent icy water caused a National Weather Service flood warning for Crooked Creek.

Down the Kuskokwim River in Aniak, a weather service flood warning was in effect.

"There was some jumbled ice down below Aniak that broke up earlier in the winter," Zidek said. "It came to a stop, didn't cause any flooding, but it froze in place."

Now, he said, the concern is that the jam causing problems at Crooked Creek will let loose, hit the ice in Aniak and cause flooding.

"This is a wacky event, in that last November they had an early winter ice run, a full-on breakup, that was very unusual," Balk said. "So a lot of the residents up and down the river didn't know how that would factor into this spring's breakup, and we're seeing mixed results."

What they're seeing is mushy, rotten ice near Bethel and Tuluksak, which is down the Kuskokwim River from Crooked Creek. The weak ice isn't expected to cause problems, Balk said.

The ice upriver near McGrath doesn't seem to pose a flood risk either, he said. But in the middle, they're still watching to see how the ice jams and water will interact, Balk said.

"What we think is there's not actually a whole bunch of water in the whole river system right now," he said. "Our guess is that this ice jam might be a very extensive one, in terms of it really almost heading down to the bed of the river so it's almost like a full-on dam."

"It might be, or it might be just a funky event."

The state River Watch team will continue to monitor the river and post the latest information at

Breakup on the Yukon River has gone smoothly so far, with reports that the ice had broken Saturday and the river was flowing freely past Eagle, where flooding caused havoc two years ago.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.

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