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Chunks of floating ice tear up Alaska town

An ice jam that gave way on Alaska's mighty Yukon River sent ice chunks the size of homes into the town of Eagle, knocking some buildings off their foundations and damaging others.
APTOPIX Alaska Flooding
Boulders of ice sit between The Eagle Trading Company's cafe and hotel in Eagle, Alaska, on Thursday.Sam Harrel / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via AP
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

An ice jam that suddenly gave way on Alaska's mighty Yukon River sent floating ice chunks the size of homes into the town of Eagle, knocking some buildings off their foundations and damaging others.

The city and neighboring Eagle Village had earlier been flooded by the ice jam, which had backed up river water. The ice jam had kept water nearly 20 feet over the river's flood levels on Wednesday. The Yukon's flood levels at Eagle, about 200 miles east of Fairbanks, was 34 feet.

The ice jam broke Wednesday night, instantly adding four feet to earlier flooding. By Thursday, the water had receded by about 20 feet from its peak.

Satellite dishes and pallets littered muddy dirt streets near the waterfront, scattered among boulders of ice. Icebergs the size of small boats drifted by in the current.

Buildings swept away
The ice on Wednesday pushed over a retaining wall and against a row of buildings along Front Street, knocking at least four off their foundations.

Two of them, an old log cabin used as a storage shed and an old sauna, were carried down the river.

“The restaurant is floating around,” Jackie Helmer told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “The store is there, but it has ice up to the roof. The bed and breakfast is still standing. It’s kind of cockeyed, but it’s still there.”

The National Park Service said about 10 homes in Eagle were damaged or destroyed. Officials said many damaged buildings cannot be salvaged.

At least 46 of the area’s 125 residents were homeless. Many took shelter at the local school.

Mark Malcolm told the News-Miner that his family and five neighbors had lost their homes. "The houses, they are off their foundations," he said. "There is water up to the roofs. I don’t think anybody has got any flood insurance around here. Nobody thought it would get this bad."

"I’m worried about wintertime when it gets 60 below," he added. "Where am I going to be? Am I going to have a roof over my head for my kids and my woman?"

On Tuesday, large pieces of ice crushed most of the buildings in Eagle Village, a tiny community east of Eagle.

Smells like fuel
James Savage, an incident commander with the National Park Service, said a safety officer reported Wednesday that much of Eagle smelled like a fuel tank farm, presumably from ruptured fuel and oil tanks.

ADDITION Alaska Flooding
Resident Gary MIllard moves debris from the road in front of his home Thursday, May 7, 2009 in Eagle, Alaska. The ice jam on the Yukon River has broken near Eagle, a small community that has suffered its worst flooding in recorded history. There was a dramatic rise in water level, about 4 feet, late Wednesday evening, taking water to its highest level of the flood. But about midnight, the water started to recede, National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb said.Sam Harrel / Fairbanks Daily News-miner

Gov. Sarah Palin issued a disaster declaration for areas affected by the flooding, including the drainages of the Yukon, Kuskokwim, Kobus and Susitna rivers, providing easier access to state disaster relief funds.

There was also flooding downstream in the village of Circle, including reports of 20 inches of water in one store. Water also was receding in Circle and river ice was moving past the village, but the community expected to see more water.