Talkeetna officials called for evacuations in the face of major flooding Friday, the most serious crisis in a day that saw the city of Seward recovering from Thursday flooding, Matanuska River waters rising in Butte and Gov. Sean Parnell declaring a disaster in much of Southcentral Alaska.
Parnell flew into Talkeetna by helicopter to see the flood damage firsthand during a tour of the Mat-Su Valley. He subsequently declared a disaster in both the Mat-Su and Kenai Peninsula Boroughs, as well as other areas affected by to this week's widespread flooding, according to spokesperson Sharon Leighow.
“While the full extent of the damage remains unknown, it is apparent that the high winds and severe flooding will leave communities in need of state assistance to recover,” Parnell said in a statement issued Friday evening. “The emergency responders and managers in the local jurisdictions have done a tremendous job addressing the needs of Alaskans. While I had a chance to visit the Mat-Su region today, I recognize many Alaskans across the state have been impacted by the extreme weather.”
The evacuations in Talkeetna were requested after as a dike protecting the town failed Friday morning; they were initially mandatory, with people barred from entering town, but became voluntary shortly before 2 p.m. At least 35 percent of the town is under some kind of water coverage with East Talkeetna flooded.
In a Friday statement on Seward damage, Seward City Clerk Johanna Kinney says crews are working to restore power to the Exit Glacier Road area. Limited road access is available was available to Lowell Point Road, but Dieckgraeff Road and the Old Mill Subdivision remain closed. City officials are continuing to operate a local emergency operations center Friday night with minimal staffing.
A Kenai Peninsula Borough statement says Mayor Mike Navarre cited the flooding in Seward, as well the Seward Bear Creek Flood Service area and parts of Anchor Point, Cooper Landing, Kasilof, Moose Pass and. Ninilchik in declaring a disaster for the borough. The borough has requested assistance from Parnell’s office as well as the state’s emergency operations center.
Damage in Butte from rising waters of the Matanuska River includes four homes and one business. Several homes near the river were already encroached upon by the flooding, with water levels expected to rise through the weekend.
According to the state Department of Transportation’s road-closures website, the Denali Highway was closed and impassable from Mile 114 to Mile 121, with repairs expected to take until 6 p.m. Friday. The Richardson Highway remains closed from Mile 12 to Mile 16, due to high water at a bridge. Other road closures included Kalifornsky Beach Road near Soldotna at Mile 11, and Exit Glacier Road near Seward.
In addition, the Parks Highway was facing possible closures near Willow at Mile 56.5 as well as from Mile 74 to 75, with water approaching the roadway. DOT spokesperson Rick Feller says crews are watching the weather closely, with more rains in the forecast increasing the possibility of closing the Parks.
"Our last report is that we're nearing the tipping point," Feller said.
The Alaska Railroad says it's also facing several washouts due to flooding, including a 500-foot section of washed-out track near Gold Creek, about 35 miles north of Talkeetna. Railroad spokesperson Stephenie Wheeler says heavy equipment is headed to the washout site, caused by Susitna River basin flood waters, but repairs could take until Monday depending on weather.
In addition, rail bridges crossing Little Willow Creek, the Kashwitna River and Sheep Creek, near Miles 73, 82 and 88 of the Parks Highway respectively, are at risk as water scours at their supports. Crews are preparing equipment to begin fortifying the bridge supports Friday evening.
Freight trains will not run between Anchorage and Fairbanks until the washout and bridges are both repaired, and passengers on the Aurora train, which will instead travel on buses this weekend. The railroad's Anchorage-Seward-Whittier corridor remains open, although several small washouts have been repaired.
The National Weather Service says a flood warning for the Susitna Valley will remain in effect until 10 p.m. Friday, while a warning for southern Prince William Sound will stay in effect until 6 p.m. Friday and a Seward warning was extended until 4 p.m. Saturday. A flood watch was issued for the Nenana River Friday as conditions south of the Alaska Range moved north, with the river expected to rise up to a foot.
According to Channel 2 chief meteorologist Jackie Purcell, both rains and high winds will return to the region Friday night and continue into the weekend, as a new low-pressure system arrives from the Gulf of Alaska. Rain was already returning Friday to parts of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and southern Prince William Sound; while no wind advisory has yet been issued, Anchorage’s upper Hillside could see winds up to 70 mph.
Contact Chris Klint