A salmon scurries across Dairy Hill Lane in Seward on Monday evening during flooding that affected several neighborhoods on the north edge of town. Emergency workers helped residents move out of their homes as water closed roads and allowed fish to move into normally dry neighborhoods.
Photos by M. Scott Moon
Flooding caused by torrential rains and compounded by high tides, forced residents to flee neighborhoods in Seward on Monday, and stranded travelers using the Seward Highway to get into and out of town.
Water levels inched their way toward dangerously high levels early Monday morning as heavy rains filled creeks and streams with runoff. By 7:30 a.m. a gage on the Resurrection River at Exit Glacier Bridge read 16.3 feet. Just 30 minutes later Seward dispatchers called the Kenai Borough Office of Emergency Services to report flooding.
Rain continued to nudge waters even higher until they crested steam banks, washed out bridges and flooded roads, and by 10:50 a.m. the city of Seward declared a state of emergency.
More than 6 inches of water ran over Mile 3 of Seward Highway and it was closed to traffic at Mile 4 at about 1:30 p.m.
Janet Cote hands belongings to Bear Creek volunteer firefighter Dan Logan after
leaving her home with her dog Daisy to spend the night with relatives. Behind
her, workers were shoring up a temporary bridge over Lost Creek.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Nash Road and the Questa Woods neighborhood were also inundated with water and as the day wore on the list of neighborhoods and roads being flooded and evacuated grew. To accommodate the displaced and stranded, the Red Cross opened shelters at the Bear Creek RV park, Seward High School and the Seward Parks and Recreation Center. Students with parents who could not pick them up after school were cared for by the school.
By 3 p.m. emergency responders had completed about 20 rescues in the Seward area, said Bradd Nelson, a trooper with Alaska State Troopers in Seward.
Nelson said all of the rescues primarily of people trapped in residences surrounded by water or flooded with water had been successful, but that rescuers had to utilize all of their creative resources.
A man living on the other side of a small bridge separating his residence from Mile 6 of the Seward Highway, for example, was rescued using a forklift when floodwaters washed the bridge away and crept up to his doorstep.
“We couldn’t get across to his residence to get to him, “ Nelson said.
Shannon Thompson and Jess Sweatt use a pontoon boat to size up damage at Carl and Kim Hughes' house off Old Exit Glacier Road. So far, the water had not entered living areas of the house, Carl Hughes said.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The front of the forklift was attached to a workbench approximately 10 feet long, which was then lowered to stretch across the floodwaters to retrieve the stranded man, he said.
Although the rain had subsided by 3 p.m. a high tide of 13.55 feet was expected to peak shortly after 3 p.m., keeping floodwaters high and adding its own twist to the disaster, Nelson said.
The high tide was of particular concern over the Seward Highway, where it created a current as it surged through the Resurrection River and then over the highway just north of the bridge.
Over the highway the water’s current was as much of a concern as its depth.
“The pressure from the current would make the cars slide,” Nelson said, explaining why the road had to be closed while the tide was high.
At about 4:15 p.m. the tide had begun to recede and with it the current, and although the depth of floodwaters remained steady, the Seward Highway was opened to traffic, he said.
“For anyone who can make it through, we’re letting them go through,” he said, cautioning that small passenger vehicles would probably not be able to pass until water levels had dropped.
As people waited for the highway to open Monday, some stopped to drown their sorrows at the Pit Bar and Liquor Store, located on the Seward Highway just north of Mile 4.
“I think a lot of people are trying to get into to town and can’t get into town or turn around and this is the only public stop,” said bartender Matt Tocchini, explaining that the bar was having a slightly busier Monday than usual.
“I have a lot of people in here that are just waiting out the storm, got flooded houses and can’t go home,” he said.
Bob Reisner, who was at the bar trying to figure out what to do next, said the unmarked road that leads to his home is flooded and that a cabin he built next to his home filled with two and a half feet of water.
He said he and some friends had anticipated the floods and rented a room in Seward. But early on Monday after they had left town to stock up on groceries the road closed and they were stuck waiting at the bar with a truck full of emergency food supplies.
“Unfortunately it came over us before I could get us all into town to get to a hotel room that we’ve got reserved for two nights,” he said.
Although the highway opened about 4:15 p.m., Nelson said that at about 6:20 p.m. the rain had picked back up again, and that people in three of the area’s subdivisions Old Mill, Questa Woods and Meridian were still being asked to voluntarily evacuate.
A press release from troopers said people living in the Maxwell subdivision also are being asked to evacuate. The press release also said the Department of Environmental Conservation is issuing a warning telling residents in flooded areas who use well water to boil the water before drinking it.
Schools in Seward will open for classes today, but the school district advised parents concerned with safety issues to keep their students at home.
Borough Mayor John Williams has signed a disaster declaration for the eastern and southern portions of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and has requested that the governor’s office declare a state of emergency, which would allow state resources be used in the recovery effort.
Patrice Kohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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