Best way to avoid flooding is to live outside flood zone

Posted: Saturday, March 04, 2000

Throughout Southcentral Alaska, vast amounts of rain and snow can cause flooding.

Seward is the most flood-prone area on the peninsula, because the city is located on an alluvial basin, said the Kenai Peninsula Borough's acting planning director Max Best.

"Seward's the biggest area we're worried about as far as flooding," said Best. "It's not predictable where the rivers are going to go when the water rises."

However, Seward is far from the only place vulnerable to a major influx of water.

Any of the area rivers could have their banks overwhelmed, said borough emergency management coordinator John Alcantra.

Alcantra and Best said, in order to avoid floods as much as possible, people should live outside of zones where high water is common.


A homeowner uses a boat to access his property during a flood on the Kenai River in 1995.

Photo by Mason Marsh

Maps showing vulnerable flood zones are available at the borough's planning department and the building inspection offices of the peninsula's cities.

Alcantra said many people don't realize how great a risk flooding is.

He said a common mistake is misunderstanding what the different zones mean. For example, someone looking to build along the Kenai River may see the area is in a 100-year flood zone. Because the river last flooded in 1995, the builder assumes there is no risk until 2095.

Alcantra said that is a very risky assumption.

A 100-year zone means that there is a one-in-one-hundred chance of a major flood every year, Alcantra said.

Even if the land you want to build on is in a flood zone, Best said it is still possible to put up a home. All structures in flood zones must have a special permit from the borough, though.

"You can build in the flood zones if you meet certain requirements and can get insurance," Best said.

Insurance is necessary, Best said, in order to offset the costs of potential flooding, which is usually borne by taxpayers.


A volunteer from The Salvation Army caries belongings back to a home following the 1995 Kenai River flood. Relief workers play a vital role before, during and after a disaster.

Photo by Mason Marsh

Alcantra said some flood-prone areas use tax money to buy up the land at greatest risk and create public recreation areas.

Alcantra said although such an idea might work on the Kenai Peninsula, he doesn't see it happening anytime soon.

"In an era of restrictive budgets, is it high enough on the priorities?" he asked. "It costs a lot of money."

Alcantra said no amount of warning or discouragement will keep people from building in flood zones.

"It's human nature," Alcantra said. "People love to be by the water and are willing to put up with the risks involved."

Once flood waters start rising, there is little to be done.

Alcantra said evacuations are not very common on the peninsula, but will be used occasionally to ensure residents stay out of harm's way.


After the disaster has receded, the flood of insurance, loan and other paperwork begins.

Photo by Mason Marsh

People will be notified of an impending evacuation in any of a number of ways, he said, including the Community Alert Network and emergency radio broadcasts, among others.

"We have multiple tools in the toolbox to let them know when they need to evacuate or when they need to shelter in place," he said.

If evacuation is not considered necessary, Alcantra said people should stay indoors as much as possible to avoid flood waters.

Incoming plumbing could be compromised and should be used as little as possible, he continued.

Alcantra also recommended sealing doors and windows beneath the estimated water level.

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