Salcha residents gear up for rare winter flood

Posted: Thursday, January 02, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Salcha residents spent New Year's Eve braving 30-below temperatures to build a protective wall against rare winter floodwaters near the Tanana River.

The barrier was holding steady on New Year's Day, according to Fairbanks North Star Borough officials.

About 30 emergency workers and residents built a 1,300-foot long, 18-inch-high sandbag wall, said Tim Biggane, director of emergency services for the borough. The wall is atop a dike in an area on the Richardson Highway where overflow was threatening an eight-home subdivision.

Biggane said the principal cause of the flooding is probably the ice jam in the main channel of the Tanana, about a mile from the highway. The jam occurred in November when ice on the river broke up during some of this winter's unusually warm weather and has since frozen in place. Water building up behind the blockage has been shunting into secondary channels, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Flooding is a chronic problem in Salcha. An ice jam this spring caused flooding that resulted in Salcha being declared a federal disaster area.

Biggane has been monitoring the recent problems since he was first alerted to the flooding last weekend.

Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service extended its flood watch for the area through Thursday afternoon. According to the service, similar events occurred in the same area in November 1978 and 1983, and such events usually last two or three days before an ice jam breaks and water levels return to normal.

Biggane said flooding could remain a periodic problem through breakup.

''Unless winter becomes winter in Alaska, we'll be dealing with this all through spring,'' he said.

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