Yukon River Flood Devastates City of Eagle

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Many Sequim residents are from Alaska or have family connections with Alaska.  Chuck Marunde, Editor of this online newspaper, is on duty in Alaska this week.  Reporting from Tok, Alaska, Chuck interviewed locals who witnessed the most devastating flood in history on the Yukon River in the first incorporated city in the State of Alaska, Eagle.

Eagle, Alaska, sits on the shores of the Yukon River in northern Alaska in some of the most rugged county in the world.  The Yukon winds out of the massive Ogilvie Mountain range in the Yukon Territory of Canada and across Alaska ultimately dumping into the Bering Sea.  Last week on May 4th, the Yukon flooded approximately 20 feet above its previous highest flood mark.  Why so high?

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This past winter the ice on the Yukon River was about two feet thicker than previous years.  As spring breakup proceeded, the massive volume of ice began to dam up the river in numerous locations.  Had temperatures stayed below freezing, the river might have melted in its natural timeline, but melting and refreezing in a year with unusually thick ice created the worst scenario for flooding with chunks of ice the size of houses being forced down the river and backed up by even more water and ice.

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The original village of Eagle was completely destroyed, although there were only a couple of people still living in the old village.  The village had been rebuilt in a new location years ago, but the city of Eagle as shown in these photos was almost entirely destroyed.  While flood victims in America most often can recover with insurance proceeds to rebuild their homes and start over, it is most likely that few residents in Eagle had insurance for this kind of catastrophic event.  Many who live in the villages of Alaska are living off the land and do not have large incomes to pay insurance premiums.

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Eagle residents Paul and Diane Brinkman are some of the lucky ones, because their home sits up high well above the flooding and damage.  On the other hand, Paul, who is near retirement as a State of Alaska employee, had planned to build his retirement home on a little four acre island he had purchased just down river from Eagle.  Unfortunately, the massive ice flow swept the island away.   Paul’s legal description on his Statutory Warranty Deed no longer describes real estate on this planet.

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The National Weather Service called the flooding “one of the worst floods of record.”  Apparently the ice began to jam about 10 miles down river of Eagle, and in the days to follow the water levels, ice buildup and temperatures created the perfect flood.  The Yukon served its vengence on an unsuspecting city with shocking speed.  Residents were awakened to water levels rising so fast that they had to run and leave everything.  One man who had just purchased a brand new pick-up truck had to leave his pick-up, because it would not start with the engine already under water.

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Many homes and buildings are no longer in Eagle.  They are gone.  The clinic, the village church, and many homes are gone.  The river took them leaving no evidence they ever existed.

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Tanana Chiefs Conference President Jerry Isaac flew into Eagle to survey the damage and to encourage residents.  “I’d like to encourage a spirit of cooperation,” he said. “There’s no way you can separate people out here. Everybody lost.”

1 Comment for “Yukon River Flood Devastates City of Eagle”

  1. I know the Yukon River well, but not with such devastation. Our thoughts and prayers go out for the residents of Eagle, AK. One summer, between my college years, I pumped water out of the Yukon River at Whitehorse to hose down dust-covered tractor-trailer units that hauled ore for White Pass out of the Faro mine.

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