FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Low-lying areas of Fort Yukon were under water Monday, a day after breakup on the Yukon River left 15 homes uninhabitable in Circle.
The Yukon River moved past Fort Yukon late Monday morning, and village officials reported to the National Weather Service that the frontage road was impassable and water was up to the steps of the tribal hall.
The ice had jammed about 15 miles upriver from Fort Yukon until it partially broke Monday morning. Water that is flowing downstream caused low-level flooding in Fort Yukon. But at the site of that jam, water was flowing over both river banks, extending about a mile on both sides.
Officials say when this finally breaks, it could cause additional problems for Fort Yukon, where the flood warning has been extended to 10 p.m. Tuesday.
"One concern that we have is that downstream from Fort Yukon, the River Watch Team noted the ice is intact and looks stronger than the ice upriver from Fort Yukon," said National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb from his office in Fairbanks.
That means there is potential for the breakup front — or the boundary between ice that's still in place from the winter and ice that is moving — to get hung up downstream of Fort Yukon.
Plumb said that could mean "the water would then back up into Fort Yukon and flooding could get worse if it gets stalled out downstream."
"We're expecting some minor flooding, but there is potential for more significant flooding if an ice jam does form below Fort Yukon," he said.
A few elders were evacuated from the village by plane Monday for safety reasons, village flood coordinator Velma Carroll told The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://is.gd/BlVFWl).
Residents in low-lying areas were preparing by moving personal belongings to higher ground, tying dog teams in high spots, cutting off electricity to their homes and topping off fuel tanks to anchor them and keep them from being swept away.
"Right now it's a waiting game and this is the worst part," Carroll said Monday evening. "The whole lower downtown community has been packed up. Everyone has located a spot to stay on higher ground, or at the school."
Residents in Circle took refuge at the post office, school and store when the Yukon River flooded Sunday, Circle Tribal Council First Chief Jessica Boyle said.
There were no injuries, but a group of elders became stuck in a vehicle and got a lift in the bucket of a front-end loader that happened to be passing by.
The community began assessing damage and cleaning up from the flooding. Those without housing were staying at the tribal hall or with relatives.
"It's a big mess and we're slowly cleaning up," said Second Chief Tonya Carroll. "It's been hectic, and we just have to do what we have to do."
Carroll and Boyle also helped coordinate with state and other relief agencies.
"This is the worst, worst," said resident Shirley Carroll Kidd. "Never seen the ice this high in my life. It was scary."
Relief is expected to start pouring into Circle over the next few days. Bottled water, food, dog food, clothing, bedding and cleaning supplies are among the items most in need.
Circle is a historic mining community about 125 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Fort Yukon, with a population of about 585, is about 70 miles northwest of Circle.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com