Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Duffy surveys the damage on Little Su

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Monday, August 21, 2006

EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER 11:30 pm - Hovering in a helicopter several hundred feet above the Little Susitna River on a rare clear day, Borough Manager John Duffy gained a quick understanding of how water forced him from home for two nights.

"The river found an old oxbow, so it left its bed and came swinging around south toward N. Sushana Drive and Schrock Road," Duffy said. Sushana Drive was under three feet of water. Duffy made it home Saturday night but decided not to stay there. "I barely got out."

Duffy flew along the Litte Su River from the flooded areas of Houston to the base of Hatcher Pass. On Saturday, Gov. Frank Murkowski declared the flooding in the MAT-SU a state disaster. Duffy is among the 150 or more residents who were temporarily displaced from their homes from the swarming waters that normally flow, not rage, through the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. He is also like many here, only one road leads to home. In the aerial reconnaissance with Providence's LifeGuard pilot Ken Kelpe, Duffy said he was amazed at how much the water in the Little Su had dropped Monday night. "It was clearly over three feet on Sushana, now there's no water."

Duffy was also struck by the wide swath of land that was still saturated. Dozens of cabins and homes are along a river that doesn't run straight. For miles the Little Su nearly bends back upon itself and sometimes splits into two rivers only to return to itself again. With heavy rains in the Talkeetna Mountains over several days, the river grew and found new courses to run. Visible from the air were: a stranded greenhouse, a private bridge flung onto shore, a floating green roof of a cabin. Logjams are not of single stubborn trees, but collections of timber that were gnawed from the bank and tossed about. Water here has wrapped itself in moat fashion around at least three homes.

"I really feel for those people. The river created a new course. They'll have to make a serious investment to go to the house by building a bridge for a driveway."

Near the base of Hatcher Pass area, the water runs in rapids. Duffy and others agree that if the state Department of Transportation hadn't placed 45 end dump loads of boulders along the banks, the river could have cut east through N. Palmer-Fishhook Road and possibly swamped subdivisions like Sun Valley. "DOT saved the day with that rip rap," Duffy said.

While Duffy said he felt better seeing the significant drop in water level, the forecasted rainfall ahead troubles him. "Everything is saturated. When the Talkeenta River normally runs at 8,000 cubic feet per second but in this ran at 53,000 cubic feet per second, I'm aware of the power of nature."

The National Weather Service forecast calls for more rain Tuesday, and scattered showers Wednesday. The flood warning for Willow Creek and the Little Su is extended to 10 am Thursday.

Five days into the flooding, Incident Commander Dennis Brodigan isn't closing down the fort at the Emergency Operations Center. "We've been really lucky so far with no major injuries. With the sunshine yesterday, many people began to think that conditions were safe," Brodigan said. "But there's still swift water out there, roads and bridges that need repair, and wells and septics that are inundated with water. With the approaching storm we may be right back to where we were on Friday."