ice in news: Dawson work crews assist ice-crushed Eagle, AK

It wasn’t the flood waters that destroyed three dozen homes and buildings in Eagle, Alaska. It was the ice. One cubic foot of ice weighs an astounding 60 pounds, a formidable force once it starts moving. Even now huge pieces of grimy ice remain everywhere, creating a mud bog as they slowly continue to melt a month after the debacle. (Eldo Enns)

Over the summer, volunteer work crews are heading from Dawson City to Eagle, Alaska, to help rebuild the town that was shattered by ice jams and floods during this year’s spring break-up.

A house in Eagle twisted off its foundation by May's ice floes (photo www.themudflats.net)
A house in Eagle twisted off its foundation by May's ice floes, which are still melting away (photo http://www.themudflats.net)

The first crew went up the first weekend of June and a second crew went this past weekend. Individuals have also gone in between times, bringing more supplies, moral support and helping hands.

There is a very short seasonal window for rebuilding roads and homes in the North. However, Eagle is not yet receiving US federal aid, according the community blog at http://eaglefloodinfo.wikispaces.com:

Although the state of Alaska has designated over five million dollars for disaster relief, the city has not received any assistance for disaster related expenses such as clean-up, sanitation, supplies or repairs.

A first-hand account of the experiences of Dawson’s first work crew appeared in The Klondike Sun – Dawson City’s bi-weekly, volunteer-run newspaper – on Wednesday, June 17, 2009. It’s well worth a read. Reprinted with permission.

Dawson Work Crew First Outsiders to Assist in Eagle
Story by Eldo Enns

“I’ve never seen anything like it!” These are the words of Mike Crelli as we enter ‘ground zero’ in Eagle, Alaska. There isn’t one of us who doesn’t agree. Cars, houses, and trees tossed every which way, smashed, twisted, crushed, flattened, ripped apart, shattered and broken. Absolutely devastating and overwhelming!

Later we go to the old First Nations village, which (put very simply) is gone. The houses have all been torn off their foundations, pushed against the hill, tilting precariously amidst the rubble. We can’t even see a trace of the historical old church although we are told there are pieces of it here and there.

It wasn’t the flood waters that destroyed three dozen homes and buildings in Eagle, Alaska. It was the ice. One cubic foot of ice weighs an astounding 60 pounds, a formidable force once it starts moving. Even now huge pieces of grimy ice remain everywhere, creating a mud bog as they slowly continue to melt a month after the debacle.

In this morose milieu, we meet the animated Andy Bassich, whose island home was also damaged. Until his retirement last year, Andy navigated the Yukon Queen between Dawson and Eagle. Now he coordinates the Rebuild Eagle Construction Team. After pitching our tents at the park by the old school we meet Andy at the new school, which has become a hub for flood relief efforts. Chuck Barber offers his mechanical skills and heads off to work on a vehicle. Bonnie Barber volunteers to help clean someone’s flooded house. Many people on the higher streets escaped the ice but not the water.

Under the leadership of carpenter Jack Vogt, Andy sends most of us to Nick and Jean Turner’s place. Their house and foundation have shifted and Nick intends to build a log house in its place. It’s impressive how many people are considering rebuilding in the same spot. Then again, they’ve never experienced such a flood before and the likelihood of a recurrence is remote. Yet it could happen again next spring. It’s also remarkable how well the log structures fared compared to anything else.

During the next 1½ days w clean out the house under Nick’s direction, sorting items into various piles in the yard: wood, insulation, metal siding, windows, appliances, keepsakes, and a huge pile of garbage. We are fortunate to have Mike Crelli along who is not only a skilled heavy equipment operator, but has lived in Eagle previousy. He manages to borrow a cat and a frontend loader for a few hours in order to level, clear, and help organize the chaotic yard. Later he uses the frontend loader to remove the last of the house.

Perhaps the most entertaining moment of th eday (as well as being a reminder of how dangerous salvage work can be) comes when Jack Vogt and John Lodder inadvertently toss the fiberglass shower off the second floor onto the unsuspecting Josh Vogt. We can’t remember ever hearing the two-letter word “ow” spoken so zealously. Fortunately, he is wearing a hard hat and although his back is bleeding slightly,, his dad asks for forgiveness by reminding him that he’d wrecked his dad’s truck the previous year; hence, this consequence. We point out othe hole in the shower caused by Josh’s head, who is quick to appreciate the humour surrounding the durable quality of his noggin.

Jean Turner shows up later to thank us for our efforts. In a strange way, she is feeling something of a catharsis in having so many possessions destroyed and her house dismantled. To hear her say that this might have been “the best thing in a long time – kinda, sorta” – astonished us. Alex Brook is quick to take credit for sending Dawson ice her way to make this happen, but then admits to feeling badly on that account as well.

Jack’s an industrious leader who ensures that our non-union shop also puts in evenign shifts. It’s all time and a half after 6 p.m. Given our short stay in Eagle we’re eager to put in the long days. Even young Alistair Findlay-brook is spending his Saturday evening at work – drill in hand, dismantling 2×6 decks.

On Sunday morning we have the most interesting choices as we divide into groups. We can do more salvage work in the rubble, build an outhouse, or go to church. There’s definiely something spiritual, certainly metaphysical, in all of these options. Bonnie Barber and John Lodder both point to an insightful Biblical passage that speaks to this scenario: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘If one of you has a cow or an ass that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?’” The entertaining noon hour discussion revolves around who has participated in the most saintly activity that morning.

Except for the Alaska Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, who is providing food, Eagle is receiving no support for their catastrophe. They’ve managed to raise $17,000 locally, less than 1% of what is required to clean up and rebuild. They appreciate our help and they could certainly benefit from more of it. Their predicament is colossal; its’s difficult to know where to start but as Jack Vogt points out, “Our small crew showed people what could be accomplished by a few volunteers in a short period of time. Perhaps the hope that people need to begin.”

Jim Regimbal at the City of Dawson continues to organize future trips. It’s his efforts together with Angie Rear from Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Dina Grenon from the Chamber, and Bill Bowie from Arctic Inland that have made this happen. Generosity and volunteerism are part of Dawson City’s fabric and right now these charitable qualities are manifesting themselves in another country that seems tragically reluctant to look afte rits own citizens. Kudos to you, the citizens of Dawson, for being a good neighbour.

If you would like to volunteer alongside Mayor John Steins, please contact Jim Regimbal at 993-7407. The City is also accepting donations or cash. Please go to http://eaglefloodinfo.wikispaces.com for information on Eagle’s needs.

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