'Tsunami' Of Ice Wreaks Havoc On Alaskan Town

Temperatures in some parts of Alaska soared into the 70s this week, causing a rapid "melt-out" of ice and snow along the Yukon River and unprecedented flooding that nearly wiped out the small community of Eagle.

The historic gold rush outpost sits on the upper reaches of the Yukon River on the eastern edge of Alaska, along the border with Canada.

"The Front Street buildings, the store, the museum, the shop, some houses and storage buildings all have been basically destroyed," says resident John Borg, 41.

An aerial view shows at least two dozen buildings submerged in a sea of car-sized ice chunks and 30 feet of muddy floodwater on Tuesday.

The town of Eagle, Alaska, is flooded by ice and water from the Yukon River. i i
Alaska State Troopers via AP
The town of Eagle, Alaska, is flooded by ice and water from the Yukon River.

The town of Eagle, Alaska, is flooded by ice and water from the Yukon River.

Alaska State Troopers via AP

Borg says the high water eclipses anything in Eagle's recorded history, including the previous peak flood in 1937.

  

"Nothing, nothing compared to what we have here," he says. "It's just mind-boggling to look across the river and see all this ice at an elevation no one has ever seen before."

  

Borg says the Yukon rose 30 feet over its normal level when 4- to 7-foot-thick ice pans surged downstream, choking the river and bulldozing islands and shorelines. The devastation stretches for miles up and down the river, where trees have been sheared off and muddy banks scooped away like chocolate ice cream.

Yukon River ice is packed around a house in Eagle, Alaska, on May 7. i i
Sam Harrel/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner/AP
Yukon River ice is packed around a house in Eagle, Alaska, on May 7.

Yukon River ice is packed around a house in Eagle, Alaska, on May 7.

Sam Harrel/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner/AP

There have been no reports of deaths or injuries because of the flood. Eagle-area residents are used to rugged living, but a couple at a remote homestead downstream narrowly escaped the river's wrath.

  

"It was like a tsunami coming in," says longtime Yukon River resident Andy Basich. "It just picked everything up and denuded the forest."

  

Basich says that he and his girlfriend, Kate Rourke, and their 25 sled dogs survived by riding out the water in boats and canoes tied to their cabin.

  

"Suddenly, something broke loose on the river somewhere and this tremendous volume of water started rushing out," he says. "The best way to describe it was like a toilet bowl flushing."

  

Basich says the current tore apart a canoe and that one of the boats capsized. The couple was able to rescue all but one their dogs. They were brought to safety when a helicopter responded to a radio call for help.

Dan Bross reports for member station KUAC.

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