Denali Borough Mayor Clay Walker made an official local disaster declaration Thursday, after an above-average level of rainfall caused Dry Creek to burst its banks resulting in floods in Healy.
The declaration states that Dry Creek overflowed into adjacent neighborhoods and caused damage to “public, state maintained and private roads in addition to private properties in the Healy area.” Other damage includes the “exposure of buried utilities” and damage to the Usibelli tipple road bridge.
Ed Plumb, a National Weather Service forecaster based in Fairbanks, said that the average August precipitation for Healy is around 2.5 inches.
“They had about double that just in the first week of the month,” he said.
According to Plumb, toward the end of July, Healy saw a couple of inches of rainfall that “saturated the ground.” This was followed by a “series of rain events” Aug. 1-7, during which 4-5 inches of rain fell. The straw that broke the camel’s back came on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, when 1 1/2 inches of rain fell over the course of 12 hours.
“That really pushed Dry Creek and rose the water levels quickly,” Plumb said. “That last period of heavy rain kind of pushed things over the edge and caused the most significant flooding.”
Plumb, who has been a forecaster in Fairbanks for over 20 years, said he couldn’t recall a time when this has happened before.
The borough’s emergency planning and project coordinator, Chris Noel, said that Dry Creek typically runs dry through Healy. The borough was first alerted to the abnormally high water level on Tuesday, when a homeowner called saying they had water running down their driveway. When borough staff went to investigate, they found both Killian Road and Ranch Road flooded.
“It seems like, from what we’re hearing, this event was bigger than those in the recent past,” Noel said. “One road in particular — Himalaya Drive — it’s a platted public road and it was completely washed out. The damage was pretty dramatic.”
Noel said that the borough has been informed of some instances of disruption caused by the flooding. This includes a local business that had to cancel appointments because clients couldn’t reach the office and six residents who live beyond the damaged section of Himalaya Drive and can no longer reach their homes by car. Noel said the borough is providing temporary assistance to these residents.
“There were impacts to folks’ property — soil and mud was deposited — but we haven’t heard of anyone’s house being flooded,” Noel said.
By making a local disaster declaration, the mayor authorized use of reserves from the Disaster Contingency Fund. According to Noel, the borough is also now working with the State Emergency Operations Center and the Department of Natural Resources is providing assistance to secure gravel to repair roads. Noel said the cost of repairs and clean up is currently unknown.
“We currently don’t have a plan to assist homeowners if there was damage on private property,” Noel said. “These funds will be used to repair damage on platted public roads.”
One of the major fixes required is to the Usibelli tipple road bridge, which is no longer drivable.
“That bridge failed,” Noel said. “All I can say is there’s about an 8 foot section missing.”
While Dry Creek is no longer overflowing, more rain is forecast for next week. Noel said he encourages residents to monitor National Weather Service alerts to ensure they have the latest information.
Plumb said that the past couple of days have been “relatively dry” in Healy, so flooding is not expected to continue. Fairbanks residents, however, should keep their raincoats close at hand.
“Next week, there’s the potential for more heavy rain in the Alaska Range and into the Fairbanks area,” Plumb said. “So we’re definitely keeping an eye on that.”
Noel said that any Healy residents or business-owners who have experienced impacts from the floods should contact the borough at 907-683-1330.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors