Salcha monitors Tanana River overflow

Posted: Sunday, January 05, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A winter flood watch for the Tanana River in Salcha has been canceled.

The National Weather Service dropped the watch yesterday (Thursday), saying the overflow water has frozen in place and a major blockage in the Tanana has loosened.

But wary residents and local emergency officials are keeping their own watch on swollen banks from an ice-choked channel of the river.

About 100 homes along a stretch of the river were still threatened Thursday, said Rob Weathers, chief of Salcha Rescue Inc.

''The river dynamics are still in play,'' Weathers told the Anchorage Daily News.

Water had seeped into several yards along Piledriver Slough, a channel of the Tanana, and at least one home was partially flooded, he said. But no evacuations were planned.

Dozens of residents and emergency workers in Salcha spent New Year's Eve filling hundreds of sand bags at 30 degrees below zero, said Jan Denton, a nurse whose house along Piledriver Slough was flooded.

The bags were used to build a quarter-mile-long levee atop a stone dike along the slough, she said.

The overflow problem surfaced Sunday but had been developing for months because of the Interior's record-setting autumn warmth, said Mike Richmond of the National Weather Service.

Freezeup on the Tanana was at least two months late this year, with some areas icing up before others, he said.

An ice jam in a main channel of the Tanana that developed in November caused water to back up. That recently filled Piledriver Slough upriver, near where subdivisions occupy low ground, leading to overflow.

The overflow would freeze in the subzero cold and raise the level of the river, Richmond said.

That compounded the problem, but it also formed an ice dike that eventually stabilized the overflow, he said.

''This is an unusual situation,'' Richmond said. ''I can't remember a winter where we've had a problem like this.''

Salcha residents are concerned about spring. Salcha has perennial flood problems. During breakup last year, flooding turned the community into a federal disaster area. The coming spring could be worse.

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