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Galena residents watched floodwaters deepen from homemade raft

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Posted: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 12:13 am | Updated: 8:08 am, Mon Aug 26, 2013.

GALENA, Alaska — Everyone who’s been through this week’s flood in Galena has a story about the experience. For the man who’s cooking for most of the relief workers, the story involves 10 hours spent on a homemade raft with his wife, two Saint Bernards, a Rottweiler and two cats.

Rand Rosencrans has lived in Galena about 15 years and is the cook at the Galena Interior Learning Academy. Until it was wrecked by the flood, he owned the only Harley Davidson motorcycle in the remote community of about 400 people.

Last Monday, Rosencrans built a raft out of 2-by-12s, Styrofoam insulation and timber screws when he heard rising water washed out the road between his home and the airport.

The raft was about 21 feet long by 15 feet wide and was able to support about 1,500 pounds in passengers and gear.

“I built it quickly. It wasn’t built for longevity or to be towed; I built it strictly for buoyancy,” he said.

The water continued to rise the next day, reaching ankle and then knee level inside the house. Fumes from diesel spilled by the flood also worsened so Rosencrans, his wife and all the animals tied the raft to the house and got on.

For the first few hours, the raft setup looked like it would work. They had 20 gallons of water and plenty of Meals Ready to Eat. Neighbors were passing through the neighborhood from time to time on boats.

“They evacuated the elders and the kids, but we were going to try to float it out for a while,” he said.

The water level eventually reached a depth of about 4 1/2 feet inside the home. It knocked the garage off the foundation and washed away a guest cabin, he said. A major surge of water came through “like a wall of water” and snapped several phone poles closer to the river.  

Their radio had run out of batteries, but Rosencrans was able to summon help by firing three shots with a .44 pistol.

Another Galena resident brought them a new radio and a helicopter started to come down to help until Rosencrans urgently radioed the pilot and asked him to be careful.

“The chopper came over and I gave them the thumbs up and I think they thought I wanted them to lift me,” he said. “He came down toward us and I thought he was going to break our raft up.”

Rosencrans credited fellow Galena residents Charlie Green and Ed Thurmond with coming to his aid during the flood.

“Those guys are true river boat people,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for them I don’t know what we would have done.”

Thurmond brought Rosencrans, his wife and the animals to Galena’s former Air Force station, which now contains the civilian airfield and the boarding school, the only dry place in town. There, an Air National Guard C-130 took them to Fairbanks.

Rosencrans didn’t have long to rest away from the flood area. School is out of session, but Rosencrans’ kitchen and the nearby dormitories at the Galena Interior Learning Academy are being used for the cleanup and reconstruction effort. Rosencrans is back at work cooking three meals per day for hungry workers.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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