West Creek floods Dyea homes

Ray and Beryl Hosford's home near West Creek was surrounded by water Tuesday morning, July 23.

Aerial photos by Stan Kartis
Special thanks to Temsco Helicopters and City of Skagway for use of these photos

Dyea evacuated after 700-foot moraine collapses above glacial lake

By HOLLIE JOY BROWN
Darlene and Joe Bessette of Colorado were awakened suddenly at their Dyea campsite early Monday morning by a fellow camper, warning them the valley was flooding.
“Thank God the tenters came banging on our trailers, otherwise we wouldn’t have known,” Darlene said.
The Bessettes, other campers and Dyea and West Creek Valley residents woke to find water rising around them early Tuesday morning. The flood was reported at 6:15 a.m. and evacuation started at 6:30 a.m. Dyea Road was closed and a local state of emergency was declared in Dyea Valley.
Mayor Tim Bourcy said 25-35 people live in Dyea and all residents were accounted for.
Geologist Lance Pape of Haines evaluated the site from a Temsco Helicopter shortly after the state of emergency was issued.
“The 700 feet high moraine on the west side of a lake at the base of West Creek Glacier collapsed,” Pape said. “It sluffed into the lake and onto the toe of the glacier, which caused the lake to rise more or less six feet, and excess water surged down West Creek.”
A large amount of the glacier in the form of ice blocks is now in the West Creek, Pape said.
The lake has lowered, the front of the glacier broke off, and the creek from No Name Glacier is flowing directly through the crater where the moraine collapsed into the lake, he said.
“All in all it was a pretty spectacular, geological event,” Pape said.
“There was a lot of local flooding of the homes along West Creek and the Taiya River Valley,” he said, however, from an aerial view, there didn’t seem to be high water damage.
“This is not a normal type of event,” Bourcy said. “This is a catastrophic event. There were quite a few homes that were flooded.”
The Bessettes said they and other campers and residents were told to leave their automobiles and trailers. They were evacuated by National Park Service rangers and brought to the evacuation center at Skagway School, where they were given food, showers and updates.
The rangers put everybody in the truck and said, “get out,” Darlene said.
“They said come to the school and the information will be there,” Joe said. “The good news is we’re okay.”
Walter and Claudia Light from Grand Junction Iowa said when they left their trailer, water had surrounded it and their campsite.
The Lights said they found it ironic that they found themselves in the middle of a flood in Alaska. Walter’s parents similarly found themselves on vacation and in the middle of the Fairbanks flood in 1967.
This is very similar to the Fairbanks flood, Bourcy said.
Kathy Hosford, owner of Chilkoot Trail Outpost had 12 guests staying in her cabins.
“We felt safe the whole time,” she said.
Her son was on her property at West Creek.
“They literally got flushed out of bed,” she said.
She said she had no idea of how her properties were doing.
“I’m sure its going to be just fine,” she said.
Residents were able to observe their homes by helicopter early Tuesday afternoon and assess the damage. From photographs it appears at least six homes sustained some damage caused by West Creek overflowing its banks and creating new channels through the residential area. There were reports of water rising three feet in some homes.

Mayor Tim Bourcy (right) talks to displaced campers from Dyea. HJB

“The main event seems to be over,” Bourcy said at the noon press conference, less than six hours after the flooding was reported.
West Creek flow appears to be above its normal level, the dike along the West Creek bridge is a cause of concern and it will be closed until it can be assessed.
The Dyea Road re-opened up to the West Creek bridge, shortly after 3 p.m.
“Life safety issues far outweigh anything else,” he said.
Explaining to people at the evacuation site why there wasn’t concern late Monday night after the moraine started to break, Bourcy said, “That’s a pretty common thing. The entire area is extremely dynamic, it constantly changes up there every day.”
“I wonder if you’d be interested in buying a camper,” Darlene jokingly asked Bourcy.

The collapse has left the appearance of a crater seen high above the glacier.

The debris field and more ice moved into the glacial lake, headwaters of West Creek.

Dyea residents assess damages
Tour companies recover from trail closures

By HOLLIE JOY BROWN
When Pattie and Mark Maggi sat down to eat breakfast Tuesday morning, they did not expect to see water surrounding their home in Dyea.
“All of a sudden a wall of water filled the back yard,” Pattie said. Within seconds, the wall of water reached her front yard.
Pattie and Mark immediately left their home.
“It was so cold,” she said.
Ggrabbing only her prescription medication sitting next to her at the breakfast table, she and Mark left.
Pattie said now she knows what people take if they only have seconds in an emergency.
“You won’t take anything,” she said.
After the Dyea road re-opened, the two returned to find their 24-feet by 26-feet shed on its side near their neighbor’s property, their basement filled with two feet of water, wet furniture and carpet, and a lot of water.
The Maggis and other Dyea residents are now faced with assessing the damages to their homes after a 700-feet high moraine on the west side of a lake at the base of West Creek Glacier collapsed Tuesday morning. The collapsed moraine sluffed into the lake, causing the lake to rise approximately six feet with the excess water surging down West Creek.
The flood was reported at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday and by 6:30 a.m. Dyea residents and campers were evacuated, the Dyea road was closed and a local state of emergency was declared. The road re-opened by 3 p.m. to the West Creek bridge, which was still under assessment for damages.
“We have extreme damage,” Pattie said. “It’s just depressing.”
Insurance won’t cover the damage to their home because it was a water disaster and not a land slide or land movement, she said.
“I had all these books in the basement waiting to give to the library,” she said. “Now they’re useless.”
Living in Dyea the past 11 years, Pattie said she has never seen anything like the flood that swept through Dyea and West Creek valleys, however, she does remember the falls behind her house being abnormally loud Monday night.
Like many other Dyea residents, the Maggis are trying to make the best of the situation.
“It’s not as bad as it could have been,” she said optimistically.
Similar to the Maggis, Beryl Hosford went to her deck to let her dogs out at 6 a.m. and saw a wall of water coming onto her property.
“We only had a minute to get out,” she said .“The water came rushing in.” Her husband Ray and she were able to leave with two vehicles.
The Hosford’s home was surrounded by three feet of water Tuesday with only a small amount leaving by Wednesday.
“It was a lot of water and it kind of got stuck at our place,” she said. “We’ve had extensive damages.”
Now only reachable by boat, their two-story home has a bottom floor garage and furnace room with three feet of water, their motor home, camper and vehicles are covered with water, and an outside building is filled with water. They still do not know about their well, septic tank or water heater, she said.
“We’re doing good,” Beryl said, adding that she and her husband are thankful that nobody was injured.
“Somebody could have been easily killed by the force of that water,” she said.
The force of the water moved a pick-up truck, the 1,000 gallon propane tank from the side of their house, 20 cords of wood were washed away, and several items on their property were moved to high ground or to other areas around their property, she said.
The two are staying with Beryl’s mother, Anabelle Lingle, in Skagway, she said.
Tim Fairbanks’ said his water well was filled with silt and water was heavy underneath his home.
“I think I am one of the luckier ones,” he said.
Fairbanks spent Tuesday night pumping water, only to find it returned Wednesday morning. He said his generator is also having problems, however, not because of water.
He said his chicken coop had 2 to 3 feet of water in it.
“They’re pretty shook up,” he said of his chickens. Tim and his wife Crissy are staying at the Chilkoot Trail Outpost at the entrance to Dyea.
“We’re pretty darn good,” Kathy Hosford, owner of the new Outpost said. “Everybody is rolling up their sleeves and assessing the damage.”
She said her son had to travel by canoe to get to her other property next to West Creek, where all of the gravel has been removed by the water, she said.

West Creek overflows its banks into the old Hanousek homestead, where George D'Amico was living.

George D’Amico, who is on the other side of West Creek at the old Hanousek Homestead, said he took his canoe down his driveway when he left early Tuesday morning. By Wednesday afternoon he said he was still unable to get back to his home and assess the damages.
When the water started to come, he said his dogs started barking and going nuts. By the time he got them unhooked from their chains, the water was up to his thighs, he said.
Residents were not the only people directly affected by the flood.
“We’re directly affected,” Jim Ferragi of Chilkat Guides said. “We were unable to operate yesterday and today.”
The Chilkat Guides provide a trip that takes hikers up the first two miles of the Chilkoot and then floats them out on the Taiya River.
“The last mile of the tour was under water yesterday,” he said.
“We’re just taking it one day at a time,” he said. “My goal is to be operating within the next couple of days.”
Lisa Parker from Chilkat Horseback Adventures said their tours, which go on the Dyea Flats, were canceled Tuesday and the 8 am tour Wednesday morning was canceled. The rest of the day’s tours were to go on as planned, she said.
“Mud is the only problem we really have to deal with,” she said,
National Park Service Chief Ranger Tim Steidel said the Chilkoot Trail entrance and Dyea camp facilities were at normal flood levels Wednesday morning and a complete resource assessment had not been able to be completed.
There is stream bank erosion at the park area, he said, with camping facility water levels minimal to very little.
The biggest impact on the hikers and campers is a thick layer of slippery glacial film deposited across the first mile and a half of the trail and on the campground, he said.

Cars downstream at the Chilkoot Trail parking lot in Dyea sit in water from the rising Taiya River.

The trail was opened Wednesday with a caution warning to hikers, he said.
Nature is taking its course and it could be a couple weeks until the campground reopens and returns to its normal muddy conditions, Steidel said. The Native and Slide Cemetery was out of the way of the water on high ground with little to no damage, he said.

To read every story in The Skagway News, you have to subscribe to the real thing. Cost for an out-of-town subscription is just $30 a year second class mail or $40 a year first class mail. We take credit cards. Call us at 907-983-2354, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekdays Alaska time, or just mail a check to Skagway News, Box 498, Skagway, AK 99840.