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After storms, Kotzebue region braces for flooding

February 25th, 2011 | Alex DeMarban Print this article   Email this article  

And now, flooding.

After repeat blizzards that twice closed offices and schools in the region, emergency officials in Kotzebue scrambled Friday to prepare for possible flooding in town, officials said.

The runway in the village of Deering was experiencing flooding and officials feared the flooding could also affect Kivalina and Buckland, said Harry Lind, with the National Weather Service.

The rising waters come in the wake of successive storms from the south over the last week and a half, said Lind. The latest storm has moved well to the north of Kotzebue, but together, the tempests, have forced a surge of water beneath the ice sheet in Kotzebue Sound.

That's lifting and breaking shore ice on the coast and in rivers in the region. People are being advised through the radio to stay off the sea ice and river ice and to avoid traveling into and out of Kotzebue, said Lind.

Some emergency officials could not be reached as they were dashing to response meetings or involved in them. An Incident Command team was meeting around noon, to prepare for possible flooding and to let people know what's happening, said Sharon Milbocker, with the Northwest Arctic Borough.

"FEMA has been notified," she said.

The surging waters freed a Crowley barge that had been frozen into the ice. It was floating amid chunks of ice but is safely tied, said Lind. The barge posed no immediate threat, but is one measure of the sea ice's dramatic rise.

The floodwater level had also reached the edge of Front Street.

Flooding could occur on the north side of town, which is unprotected by a sea wall. The flooding, if it happened, would likely not come with large and dangerous blocks of sea ice because the wind, coming out of the west, wasn't expected to be strong enough, Lind said.

The high waters are expected to be a 24-hour event, with the most dangerous time scheduled for the high tide at about 1 p.m.

The next high tide early Saturday will be smaller, presenting less risk of flooding than today's high tide, said Lind.

"As far as I know everyone is safe," Milbocker said around noon today.

Classes have not been canceled, she said. The school is one of the city's evacuation points and may be the safest place in town.

She was not aware of other office closures around town. The borough and the city will remain open to monitor conditions, she said.

Several blizzards have rolled in from the south in recent days, pushing snow levels to "crazy" and "unbelievable" levels, said Lind.

About three and a half feet of snow fell in the first 24 days of February. The city had endured 14 days of blowing snow over those 24 days.

During the same period in February 2009

a record-breaking winter
Kotzebue received just under three feet of snow and had experienced just two days of blowing snow.

More records have fallen this year. Lind said he'll release that data and other historical information dating back to 1949 in the coming days.

As to the flooding, Lind said the National Weather Service today will release a message warning travelers to be aware of the lifting and breaking of the ice. The message will be heard on NOAA weather radio and other local frequencies.


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