Kwethluk evacuates eldery as village floods

by Angela Denning-Barnes on May 14, 2012

The Kwethluk River bank disappeared as flood waters held Monday, May 14. Photo by George Coyle, DHS&EM

The village of Kwethluk is flooding in all low lying areas. 31 elderly and chronic care patients were evacuated to Bethel Sunday. Several roadways are under water and many buildings, including the city office and washeteria, are surrounded in water. The local city council declared a state of disaster in the community, according to David Epchook, Kwethluk City Manager and the Commander of the Incident Management Team.

Epchook said, “We’ve restricted traffic on the roads to only essential traffic for emergency services that we will be providing.”

Things could be a lot worse in Kwethluk if it was like 2009, when flood waters rose in just a few hours. This year, the Kuskokwim breakup has been slow, and residents have known about potential flooding for several days. Epchook says actual flood water took six hours to come in and he expects minor flooding to last for several days.

“There probably will be mail delivery, except where the road breeched,” Epchook said. “They have to off-load and re-load and get it to the post office, which is surrounded by water by the way.”

Peter Atchak, who has been a Bethel Search and Rescue volunteer for over 30 years, said villages along the Kuskokwim River are more organized this year than he ever remembers.

“That’s what we’ve been dreaming for,” said Atchak. “For the last quite some number of years and it’s finally happening, that agencies are stepping forward.”

Atchak says the slow breakup combined with an improved effort by local organizations has given communities the chance to prepare for breakup flooding this year. State, federal, regional, and tribal groups have been meeting regularly over the past week to stay informed about the breakup progress.

The Kwethluk response team has a boat waiting outside the city office for emergencies. The Association of Village Council Presidents has organized housing for the evacuees. The American Red Cross is traveling to Bethel Tuesday to meet with individuals. The State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is asking that all donations go through either AVCP or Red Cross.

In 2011, the middle Kuskokwim River village of Crooked Creek lost about a dozen homes and many more were damaged during breakup.

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