Denali Park residents make plans after flooding

Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2003

DENALI PARK (AP) With one eye on the river and another on the sky, weary residents at Carlo Creek made plans Tuesday for recovering from damage caused by flooding.

''Everyone is physically and emotionally drained,'' said Bruce Lee, a musher and local resident. He lost property and a road into his home, but managed to save a small cabin from high water.

Carlo Creek, normally an easily forded small stream, became a torrent Monday morning and damaged or destroyed at least 12 cabins and one home near Mile 224 Parks Highway. The area is about 12 miles south of the entrance to Denali National Park.

High water ripped out power and phone lines, destroyed one private road and ate away at the Parks Highway bridge approaches.

''It was a long battle for 48 hours,'' Lee said. ''We're left to clean up and we've got a long way to go.''

Water was still lapping at the edge of many cabins along the creek. Some are now cabled to trees to hold them in place. Even a moderate rise in the water level could still be devastating, Lee said.

On Tuesday, Lee and many other residents along the creek had barely slept in the past 48 hours. Though the creek seemed to stabilize during the Monday, by evening the area was a frenzy of sandbags as people built walls to thwart the persistent, gnawing current.

More than 40 people business owners, friends and neighbors frantically filled 2,200 sandbags in an attempt to stabilize the banks and protect structures. When two huge piles of sand, donated by the state Department of Transportation, were gone, volunteers found a gravel hillside and used that material instead.

To build a wall beside Lee's cabin, a convoy of four-wheelers carried the heavy bags across deep gullies and boulders, the remains of a road washed out by floodwaters. At the cabin site, a chain of volunteers lifted the bags across a newly formed rushing stream, then carried them to the water's edge near the cabin, which used to be a good distance from the creek.

''I feel like I'm at the next-to-last checkpoint in the race,'' said Lee, an Iditarod veteran and former Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race champion. ''We haven't slept. You couldn't not do battle, but it's always frustrating when you don't know if it's going to work.''

He praised what he called the ''small army'' of volunteers who showed up to help.

''There must have been 40 people here with shovels and sandbags,'' he said. Many were strangers. Many were friends.

Two pieces of heavy equipment, recruited to assist in flood control, fell victim to the raging waters and became inoperable.

Things were looking up a bit, though. Power was back on. A group in Healy called B.A.G.S. Be A Good Samaritan delivered food to tired volunteers.

Business owners were taking inventory of the hard work ahead. A representative for the state Division of Emergency Services was headed to the area night to assess damage.

Many owners began making plans to rebuild immediately.

''We're all fighting our private little battles,'' Lee said.

Damaged cabins across the road at McKinley Creekside Cabins and Cafe were filled with mud and debris. Occasionally, the water broke through the bank and a new stream made its way down the middle of the property.

''We need equipment now,'' Lee said. ''I have folks coming from Cantwell today. We're going to try to rebuild our driveway. Five of us have places back here. So we'll try to get access back up to here and try not to look at the sky too much.''

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