An ice jam along the Tanana River is causing the Interior Alaska community of Manley Hot Springs to experience its worst flooding in more than a half-century.
By Saturday afternoon, between 50 and 75 residents of Manley Hot Springs were in the process of evacuating to higher ground, according to Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. About 150 people live in the community, which is located about 160 miles west of Fairbanks.
“We’ve been speaking to the community and working with the Tanana Chiefs Conference, who has a village public safety officer within the community, and they’re trying to determine what is needed by the community,” Zidek said.
Zidek said no injuries or distress calls had been reported, but the community’s power had been shut off early Saturday as a safety precaution and many homes in town had already flooded.
The Tanana Chiefs Conference, Alaska State Troopers, state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and the Civil Air Patrol were all involved in response and evacuation efforts, he said.
Jesse Born, owner of the Manley Hot Springs Resort, which is located in town up on a hill, said Saturday that she opened up rooms to five families who had to leave their homes because of flooding.
Born said the families she heard from who were most affected lived closest to the river, including her best friend, whose basement is currently full of water with about 8 inches of water on the first floor.
“Anybody’s house who’s out on the river is pretty much flooded,” she said.
“There’s a house that is so flooded that it’s about to, like, float away,” Born said. “It’s just a hot mess.”
The flooding is being caused by an ice jam about 10 miles downriver, said Craig Eckert, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
“Water is backing up into the slough and into town,” he said.
“This is about the second-worst flooding that they’ve seen,” Eckert said, adding that the record river level in Manley Hot Springs was documented in 1956.
The weather service has a flood warning in place for the area that’s active until 6 p.m. Sunday, but Eckert said it would likely be extended.
“Ice is heading down from the Nenana area that went through late last night,” he said. “As that gets down, we’re waiting to see if that’s going to help plow the ice back and out, or if it’s going to jam it up more.”
Born said the village is currently relying on generators for power, and the biggest concerns right now involve accessing safe drinking water and keeping food from spoiling.
Zidek said this year’s flooding risk has been particularly high due to a combination of higher-than-average snowpack and consistently low temperatures through the winter and spring.
“That’s really the conditions that we do not want to see because it leads to a lot of ice jam flood,” he said.
Because the community is in an unincorporated area, it doesn’t have access to the kind of support that usually comes from a borough government, but Zidek said the state has a mutual aid arrangement with Tanana Chiefs Conference to help provide resources to Manley Hot Springs.
Jeff Turner, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, said Saturday that Dunleavy was “fully engaged” with response efforts and that the office would “make sure Manley gets whatever resources it needs.”
Dunleavy planned to leave for Manley Hot Springs on Saturday evening, Turner said.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.