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Galena continues to clean up from devastating Yukon River flooding

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Posted: Saturday, June 29, 2013 12:16 am | Updated: 10:05 am, Sat Jun 29, 2013.

GALENA, Alaska — In Galena, progress takes the form of ruined insulation, wooden siding and furniture piling up along the streets.

Not long after the longest day of the year, residents were rushing to prepare their homes and community buildings for the coming winter.

It has been a month since water began receding from its highest levels on record in the Yukon River community. Despite the progress, signs of last month’s flooding are everywhere in the community of about 450 people.

A lake of stranded water still covers the baseball fields, though pumps are gradually drying them out. There’s no shortage of standing water around town, and a bumper crop of mosquitoes has hatched. Ice chunks the river carried into town have melted.

The twisted ribbon of a guardrail left at the site of the former bridge over Alexander Lake on Louden Loop Road sits about where it did last month after the flood carried away the culvert below the former bridge. Electricity and cellphone service is available throughout the community, but water and sewer service is only available behind the levee surrounding Galena’s former Air Force station, the only part of town that stayed dry in the flood.

Galena resident Victor Marshall was loading debris into an incinerator Wednesday afternoon. The 2 1/2 cubic-yard incinerators had burned 71 loads in the past 10 days, and a tower of debris remained to be burned. Marshall has seen plenty of ruined furniture he recognizes, including a set of desks from the health clinic that were in the pile waiting for incineration.

“I’m having my crew get rid of all the metal because that’s the biggest problem with this thing,” he said. “It gets too hot with metal. We found that out the hard way.”

The incinerator burns for 12 hours per day. It’s important to the cleanup effort because the quantity of debris exceeds the capacity of trucks to haul it out of town to the village dump. The dump was inaccessible because of a washed-out road in the days after the flood. It was closed for another 48 hours this week while a crew moved part of the narrow dirt path farther way from the river bank.

Like 90 percent of Galena buildings, Marshall’s home was damaged in the flood. He’s now living on the second story while working on drying out the first. He also owns the Yukon Inn, Galena’s only bar and restaurant. The restaurant is in old town, the worst-hit section of Galena, and Marshall was not optimistic about reopening in the near future.

“The bar I’m just staying away from because that was all the way under,” he said. “I don’t know how that’s going to work. I’ve got to start over on that.”

Some of the largest debris piles Wednesday were piling up at a complex of municipal buildings, including the Galena City Hall, the regional Edgar Nollner Health Center, the Sydney C. Huntington School and the town swimming pool.  

The Huntington school is one of the highest points in town and was used as a shelter during the flood. This year’s high waters soaked the bottom of the building, so insulation must be cleared out to prevent the growth of black mold. On Wednesday afternoon, men and women in white tie-back suits braved especially thick mosquito swarms below the school to clear insulation.

The majority of Galena residents evacuated during the flood, but they gradually are starting to return. As of this week, 124 Galena residents are living in the dormitory of the Galena Interior Learning Academy, said Chad Fullner, with the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s response team. Also in the dormitories are 54 workers from outside the village.

A group of mostly engineering students from Santa Clara University in California arrived Tuesday and are camped out on the lawn behind the dormitory. The students had been scheduled to come to Galena to assess energy costs. After the flood, they were invited to come and help assess flood damage.

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

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