Brenda Bowlin watches the Kenai River rush past the remains of her dock on the Kenai River near Swiftwater Park in Soldotna. She said she lost five steps as of Friday night and was expectin gthe water to rise higher. "It's kind of a shame because we've done everything we can to save the bank," she said.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Having a big truck means you’re automatically popular when friends are moving, and even more so when their homes are flooding.
Chris Blatchford and his 4x4 truck with a lift kit made several new friends Saturday helping flood victims in the Big Eddy area of Soldotna.
Ice jams and the draining of a glacier-dammed lake in the Kenai Mountains have caused water in the Kenai River to rise and spill over into low-lying areas, especially at Big Eddy along a bend in the river below the Soldotna bridge.
On Saturday, Blatchford was conscripted by Bob Itchoak, who needed a vehicle with enough power and clearance to navigate the up to 3 feet of icy water that covered roads in the Big Eddy area. Itchoak needed to check on property in the area.
Equipped with waders and tow straps, Blatchford and his friends motored around the subdivision Saturday, pulling swamped trucks to dry ground, ferrying homeowners to their submerged property and towing trailers full of possessions rescued from the still-rising water.
“This justifies having a big truck,” Blatchford said.
Barb Roper and her husband, Dennis, got as close to their home on Amiyung Circle as they could Saturday, then Bob hitched a ride the rest of the way with a more able truck while Barb waited on dry ground half a block away, peering through the trees for a glimpse of Bob while he opened passages at the base of their home so the water that was flowing in could eventually run back out.
Roper could hear her phone ringing, but a few hundred feet of knee- to thigh-deep water and floating ice chunks prevented her from running to answer it.
“It’s a lot different battling a flood this time of year than in September. When you try to wade in you’ve got glare ice underneath and it’s treacherous,” she said.
Big Eddy and Poacher’s Cove residents are no strangers to flooding, but many said they haven’t seen conditions this bad since 1995.
Water from the Kenai River forces a motorist to turn around on Big Eddy Road in Soldotna on Friday night.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Roper and her husband got their pets and vehicles to higher ground around 10 a.m. Saturday morning as the water that had been rising since Thursday night was swamping their neighborhood. When they came back around 3 p.m., Roper said the water was even higher.
“When we left you could see the road,” she said, looking at the lake that made it difficult to tell where pavement ended and yards began.
Temperatures were in the 20s Saturday and are expected to be in the lower 30s Sunday. Roper worries about what will happen if the temperature drops.
“We are so lucky it isn’t any colder than this,” she said. “If the temperature drops and this becomes ice we’re really going to be in trouble.”
Dennis Merkes, a contractor for 30 years in the area, speculated the situation would get worse before better. He waded from house to house along Big Eddy on Saturday, checking property for clients who are Outside.
Merkes said the main concern is keeping water away from furnaces, because without a heat source there will be nothing to keep pipes from freezing and bursting.
“This is a bad time of year for this,” he said.
In one home on East Redoubt he said the furnace was underwater. At the house he had just inspected on Big Eddy, he’d gotten there just in time to drain 6 inches of water from a crawl space.
“Another 4 inches and I would have been swimming,” he said.
As he splashed up the road to his next ward he passed another house with water flooding the yard and pooling around the garage, but no signs of tire tracks or footsteps in the snow.
“I think a lot of people don’t know this is going on,” he said.
For Soldotna residents upriver where the riverbanks are higher, ice was more of a concern than flooding.
Chris Blatchford pulls a truck and trailer out of a ditch along flooded Big Eddy Road on Saturday. Residents in the low-lying subdivision had to navigate water up to 3 feet deep.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
On Friday morning, Billie Shackleton woke to discover the river she depends on to generate summer revenue at her bed and breakfast just down from Swiftwater Park had handed her a $5,000 bill.
An ice jam is clogging the river at Swiftwater, causing water levels to rise above the jam and ice chunks the size of pickup trucks to scour the riverbank as pressure builds. Another jam has formed about 3/4 of a mile upstream from the Soldotna bridge, and a smaller one just downstream from Big Eddy was contributing to the flooding in that area. As the ice jostles along, it takes out anything in its path, including trees and, in Shackleton’s case, pillars for her boat dock, a river fishing boardwalk and stairs leading down to them.
Shackleton said in the 10 years she’s lived on the river ice has damaged her fishing boardwalk and dock four times, causing $3,000 to $5,000 in damage each time.
“I don’t think it will be a quick repair job as much as it has been in the past,” she said. “This is as much damage as I’ve had in the last 10 years. ... It has crushed everything up against the property so when I look down I see a whole bunch of smashed sticks and boards and everything. It’s taken everything away.”
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