Nome asks Knowles for disaster declaration

Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Rivers around Nome were beginning to thaw in late May, just about the time Gov. Tony Knowles was preparing to declare a flood disaster emergency elsewhere in the state.

The rapid thaw sent rivers over their banks, washing out portions of three major roads in the Nome area. The floods caused an estimated $1 million in damage from eroded embankments, lost gravel and washed-out culverts.

Nome-area residents now want the governor to amend his original disaster declaration to include their region, allowing them to qualify for state and possibly federal aid.

The Kougarok Road, which runs north from town, was the worst hit, said longtime resident Colby Carter. He lives about 70 miles out of town on the two-lane gravel thoroughfare and in 30 years has never seen the road in worse shape, he said.

''It's a nightmare to drive,'' passable only for four-wheel-drive vehicles, Carter said. ''It's basically boulders and bedrock on the road, then a section of washout'' for perhaps 20 miles.

Nome Mayor Leo Rasmussen said he wasn't surprised by the flooding. It was bitterly cold in fall but didn't snow until Christmas, driving frost deep into the ground and groundwater to the surface. The Nome River, which parallels Kougarok Road, ''glaciered'' 6 to 8 feet thick, he said.

''Basically the river had been rising all winter long, but it was freezing in place,'' he said.

Then Nome was hit by three consecutive days of record high temperatures in late May.

''When spring came,'' Rasmussen said, ''the big flood of water came right over the roads. We had water going in places that it doesn't normally go.''

State crews made the roads passable, but reconstruction will take more than the $50,000 in emergency funds released Monday, said Ralph Swarthout, the DOT's northern region director.

In the meantime, the state Division of Emergency Services is researching the flood damage and will present its conclusions to the Governor's Disaster Policy Cabinet. The cabinet, in turn, makes its recommendation to the governor.

The earlier state disaster declaration, which was issued May 30 and included parts of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and nearly a dozen villages along the Kuskokwim and Nushagak rivers, has already been forwarded to President Bush.

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