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Downriver from Yukon ice jam, Koyukuk braces for flooding

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Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:44 pm, Thu May 30, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Watching and waiting has been the byword for the past couple weeks in the village of Koyukuk, located on the Yukon River approximately 28 miles below Galena, which is undergoing a devastating flood with water and ice overflow created downriver by an ice jam.

The ice jam is located at Bishop’s Rock, approximately 12 miles above Koyukuk, and it is making downriver communities such as Koyukuk, Nulato and Kaltag anticipate heavy flooding as well.

“People are getting tired but we’re ready and prepared,” said Cindy Pilot, tribal administrator and a flood coordinator.

“All we know is that the jam is getting weaker,” Pilot said Tuesday.

The community is getting updates from the river watch folks, Pilot said, as well as private flights that come by.

On Tuesday afternoon, there was some ice going down the river for a time, but townspeople speculate that it was from windblown ice that had been pushed up against the bank that came free with the warmer weather.

“If the jam breaks, suddenly there is going to be a big wall of water coming down and it is going to hit fast and water will come up but it may go down fast,” Pilot said.

Villagers are taking shifts watching the river, and a plan is firmly in place to alert the town at the first signs of the jam breaking up.

On Tuesday, Athabascan linguist Eliza Jones and six villagers were evacuated by plane. Eliza’s husband, Benjamin Jones, who will be 80 in August, stayed behind with 73 others in the small village, which sits on the north bank of the Yukon River and is flanked to the east by the Koyukuk River.

“I got dogs to take care of — 11 dogs,” said Jones, explaining his reasons for staying despite the imminent threat of flooding.

Jones’ sled dog team is staked at the village runway where most of the villagers have parked their vehicles, hopefully out of harm’s way.

“If worse comes to worse, I’ll put the dogs in the boat and take them up the hill,” Jones said.

Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.

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