Ice jam on central Yukon River breaks, waters recede

Posted: Friday, May 19, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- An ice jam on the central Yukon River gave way but not before nervous residents of two villages scrambled to get their valuables to higher ground.

Water covered nearly three-quarters of the village airstrip in Koyukuk on Thursday, while downstream in Nulato, the river flooded the only road connecting the village to the airport and fuel depot.

A strip of ice at Five Mile Island near Nulato appeared to be holding everything up, said Doran Hickman, Koyukuk's village public safety officer.

''We're hoping that within the next 24 hours it will loosen up,'' he said Thursday afternoon. ''Right now we're just at a standstill.''

Soon after, Hickman got his wish. The ice jam gave way late Thursday afternoon and the water receded.

''A lot of us were ... nervous,'' he said Friday. ''We dodged a bullet.''

Water rose two feet in less than an hour in Nulato before ice in the main channel gave way and the flow ebbed, but not before the airport road was covered, said Andy Durny, Nulato's treasurer.

''It's a good sign that the water dropped and ice is moving in the main channel, but that could change at any time,'' he said.

In Koyukuk the airport was closed to all but the lightest craft and may stay closed for several days before it dries out.

The village's network of culverts and holding ponds for flood control were diverting water away from most village structures, said Hickman.

A slough running behind the village has funneled some water into yards, but houses there are set on pilings and owners can still get home wearing rubber boots, Hickman said.

''It's unbelievable how much ice is out there on the river -- just big, huge blocks,'' he added. ''It's pretty solid.''

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