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Road work begins as flood waters recede

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2002

NINILCHIK (AP) -- The big job of road repair has begun after flood waters surged this week over the banks of the Deep Creek and Ninilchik River.

The National Weather Service reported that river and creek levels had receded by Friday, and state road crews were starting to patch 60 miles of the southern Sterling Highway.

The biggest problem was the highway bridge across Deep Creek. The bridge stopped short in midair. Flood waters erased the roadway leading to its abutment, leaving a gash about 50 feet wide between the span and the nearest pavement.

Side roads were also gone at creek crossings, stranding dozens of families and the south Peninsula village of Nikolaevsk.

The state Department of Transportation reported Saturday that the Sterling Highway between Anchor Point and Homer had been reopened, but the road was still closed at Deep Creek Bridge. That portion of the highway was expected to remain closed for perhaps two days.

Gov. Tony Knowles flew into the area Friday to meet with Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley and to tour the storm-damaged area at Deep Creek. Bagley declared a local state of emergency for the southern and eastern parts of the Peninsula.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough reported damaged or threatened dwellings in Happy Valley and Hawk's Beach south of Ninilchik, the White Sawmill Subdivision in Seward and the Kenai Keys subdivision along the Kenai River.

A day after the downpour, Deep Creek's water level was considerably lower but the stream still churned a dirty brown.

''There was a house there,'' Phil Curry, chief of Ninilchik's volunteer fire department, said as he pointed across a sodden, impassable gravel road toward a driveway that led to nothing but open water.

The property owner lives out of state and may not yet know that his three cabins, several parked cars and boats were washed away, Curry said.

A little downstream, Mark Kruzick was scrambling to pump water from the crawl space beneath his retirement home, assess his severely damaged garage and deal with insurance agents. ''It's a matter of mop-up now,'' Kruzick said, smiling in resignation.

Kruzick and his wife, Elizabeth, were gone all day Wednesday and returned that evening to a driveway thigh-deep in water.

They waded in, turned off the electricity, grabbed their toothbrushes and dog, then spent the night in a neighboring summer cabin.

''It was deafening, the roar,'' Kruzick said of the high water rushing by.

The washout at Salmon Creek left a gaping chasm in Oilwell Road, leaving people in the Caribou Hills without access to food. Among them, Iditarod musher Tim Osmar was down to about three days of kibble for his kennel of 65-plus dogs, said his father, Dean.

He said Tim and his family were jury-rigging blown-out portions of the road near their home to reach an airstrip. They hoped to fly in dog food.

''Tim has a sheep he was going to slaughter anyway this fall. It's his backup plan, just in case he can't get commercial food in there early next week,'' Dean Osmar said.

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