As the water of the Kenai River continues to rise from the Skilak glacial dam outburst, the rising water almost claimed its first five victims on Saturday afternoon.
Seward and Cooper Landing-based Alaska State Troopers along with Alaska State Park Rangers and employees of Alaska Wildland Adventures responded to a vessel in distress after a drift boat grounded itself on a rock and was partially submerged on the upper mainstream of the Kenai River, about two miles downstream from the bridge at the outlet of Kenai Lake.
"The river is running really, really high and usually the rock is very visible, but right now it's a sleeper, so they probably didn't know it was there," said Brooke Edwards, program director for Alaska Wildland Adventures in Cooper Landing.
The eco-tourism business runs guided fishing and float trips from its Kenai riverside campground and RV park at Mile 49.7 of the Sterling Highway. As such, they typically have boats in place and ready to launch to assist troopers in emergency situations.
"We launched a raft with a 20 horsepower motor at first, but the river is so high and fast, it came back and we sent out a Willie Predator with a more powerful 55 horsepower motor," Edwards said.
A trooper was driven by Jake Malton and Jason Proetz to the scene of the incident, where five fishermen were balancing precariously to avoid falling into the fast flowing water.
"It was a classic high-side situation. It was on it's side and pinned, with water coming over the gunnel. Jake took our boat upriver and held it steady while Jason and the trooper got all five people out of their boat," Edwards said.
Other than being wet from the waist down, all five fishermen were in good health upon reaching shore. Their boat was not so fortunate, and remained still partially submerged as of Sunday. It was unclear when it would be removed since more high water was predicted for the coming week.
The National Weather Service in Anchorage has issued a flood advisory for the western Kenai Peninsula, remaining in effect until 5 p.m. July 31. The flood advisory means river or stream flows are elevated, or ponding of water in urban or other areas is occurring or is imminent.
The Skilak glacial dam releasing at this time, combined with high water from rainfall this past week, weekend and more anticipated rainfall this coming week is expected to cause water levels on the Kenai River, from Skilak Lake to near Kenai, to rise to near or above minor flood levels.
Anticipated high water levels are 14.5 feet at the gauge below Skilak Lake by early Wednesday morning; about 12 feet in Kenai Keys by Wednesday morning; and 12 feet in Soldotna by later in the day Wednesday.
Residents along the Kenai River, particularly in the Kenai Keys and Big Bend areas should take action to protect life and property. Rain is expected to cause considerable ponding of water in low lying areas, near culverts, and along small creeks and drainages.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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