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Flooding closes Dalton Highway

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Rain-swollen rivers on the North Slope and in the Brooks Range have washed out several sections of the Dalton Highway, forcing its closure and prompting the National Weather Service to issue a flood warning for the area.

''The site near Toolik Lake had about 2 inches of rain in one day,'' said meteorologist Rick Thoman, from Thursday morning to Friday morning. ''That is a heapload of rain for that part of the world,'' he said.

The state Department of Transportation reported Friday morning that the Dalton Highway at Mile 264.5 was closed until further notice due to washouts near the Sagavanirktok River.

Later Friday, the DOT issued another advisory for a washout at Mile 342 that closed the road. The advisory said the road would be closed for at least 48 hours.

Water also washed over the road from Mile 311 to 315, the advisory said.

''We have had an unreal amount of water that just came at one time,'' said Terry Stenroos, an equipment operator at the Sag River Maintenance Station. ''They had like 11 or 12 inches of snow and at least 1 1/2 of rain on top of that. When that happens you have got one good flood.''

The worst washout is about 72 miles south of Deadhorse, he said, where Mark Creek took out three culverts when it washed out the highway.

''We had water over the road in at least maybe seven different spots before the big one went,'' Stenroos said.

Lynden Transport driver Mike Shydeler came upon the washout Thursday night.

''We watched one of the culverts go squirting out into the tundra,'' Shydeler said Friday as he and other northbound truckers waited at nearby Happy Valley, an old pipeline construction camp. He said some of the drivers planned to try to return to Fairbanks, though he was unsure if they would make it since water was running over the road in at least 10 places.

''I haven't seen this in three years,'' Shydeler said. ''There is water everywhere. The river is high and running wild.''

Shydeler and others reported snow accumulating atop Atigun Pass in recent days. Thursday brought rain, which melted the snow and flushed the rivers.

''The last three or four days it has been raining quite heavily in the Deadhorse area,'' said Kevin Starnes, operations manager for Carlile Enterprises in Deadhorse. Nine of his drivers flew home Saturday because they could not get back through on the road, he said.

Along with truckers, the washouts left some tourists stranded at Deadhorse.

''All the tourists here are panicking,'' said Joe Bernard, manager of the post office and Prudhoe Bay General Store.

It was snowing a little bit on Friday, he said. ''They start to panic when the snow starts flying.''

Meteorologist Thoman said the precipitation was expected to slow but temperatures were likely to drop.

''The good news is it's not going to rain anymore because anything that falls is going to be snow.''

Relief from the flooding could be longer coming, he said. Rivers should drop in the Brooks Range headwaters, Thoman said.

''It will take two or three days to flush out.''

That could mean flooding on the North Slope. The weather service flood warning covers the entire Slope east of the Kuparuk River. Friday evening the rivers were already high.

''The rivers up here in Prudhoe and in Deadhorse are well over their banks,'' said Officer Dan Grimes of the North Slope Police Department. Stenroos said road crews are waiting for the water to drop before repairing the road. Extra equipment from the Coldfoot station was on the way up the highway Friday.

''As long as we won't get more rain, the water will subside pretty fast so we can go in and do some work,'' he said.



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