Ekwok flooding forces residents from homes, destroys smokehouses and fish-drying racks

Posted: Wednesday, May 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- When the water began to rise in Ekwok, tearing fish-drying racks from the banks of the Nushagak River and sending ice chunks down village streets, it didn't surprise lifelong resident Luki Akelkok.

''I kind of knew it would happen,'' Akelkok said Tuesday. ''For the first time in years we had a lot of snow and water and it thawed, and man-oh-man we had a lot of water all over.''

Akelkok, 65, said in no time at all the water was knee-deep early Sunday in the southwest Alaska community of about 135 people. The last time he remembers flooding like this was when he was a teen-ager.

''It was kind of scary watching water coming and ice kegs coming on the street,'' said Akelkok, who helped evacuate several homes.

An ice jam caused the Nushagak to rise quickly at about 3:30 a.m., putting homes under as much as 2 feet of water and flooding the power plant and bulk fuel storage areas.

The flooding destroyed smokehouses and fish drying racks, and damaged homes near the river used primarily in the summer. Waters were receding Tuesday. Six families evacuated over the weekend were back in their homes.

The flooding put the town's generators under a foot and a half of water and moved the power plant building a half-foot from its foundation, said Robert Brown, village public safety officer and part-time city administrator. Power was being supplied Tuesday by a backup power plant on higher ground.

The flooding caused used motor oil from generators stored in 55-gallon drums outside the plant to spill, Brown said. An emergency response team in the village cleaned up the spill. The Department of Environmental Conservation was sending additional cleanup materials.

Ekwok's three 20,000 gallon fuel tanks were empty when the flooding occurred. The last fuel barge to service the village got stuck in ice last fall in New Stuyahok, 11 miles from Ekwok. The village won't get another fuel delivery until the river ice is gone. Residents, meanwhile, are sharing the fuel they have left.

The Bristol Bay Area Health Corp. in Dillingham was sending testing kits to determine if village wells were contaminated. Some residents were picking up water in 5-gallon containers from the city office building.

The town has requested that Gov. Tony Knowles declare a disaster so Ekwok can be eligible for emergency funds.

''Financially, we are incapable of repairing and cleaning things up. We need assistance,'' Brown said.

Akelkok said he thinks the worst is over. Smaller ice jams 35 miles upriver won't cause the same problems, he said.

''We are safe now,'' Akelkok said. ''Nothing is going to be like this big one.''

Brown wasn't so sure.

''It actually could jam up again,'' Brown said. ''There is still all that ice to come down.

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