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Flooding south of Alaska Range wreaks havoc on AK Transportation system

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Alaska Railroad
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Fairbanks, AK - The Parks Highway near Denali National Park is down to one lane after flooding on the Nenana River.  The west side Denali Highway is closed and the Alaska Railroad is scrambling to repair erosion damage in the central part of the state. 

The Nenana River crested at nearly 15 feet Saturday, but not before consuming parts of the southbound lane of the Parks Highway, just north of the entrance to Denali National Park. National Weather Service Hydrologist Ed Plumb says that flooding was unexpected. “Where the river was really flooding and where people were observing this," says Plumb, "it hadn’t even really rained, so it was kind of a surprise to see the water coming up that much.”

Most of the rain that contributed to high water along the Parks fell high in the mountains near the Nenana’s headwaters.  Plumb says normally precipitation falls as snow in the Alaska Range this time of year, but with a series of warm Chinooks blowing through, what should have been frozen fell in a liquid state.  Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says high water and high wind have wreaked havoc on roadways across Alaska for the last week.  “We had issues in Tetlin on Monday, then Valdez on Friday, in between there, Mat-Su, Kenai," she says. "I think it was just really unprecedented how widely it hit across the state.”

Road construction crews worked throughout the weekend to rebuild the eroded bank along the Parks.   But the Alaska Railroad has stopped all trains travelling north of Wasilla until at least Wednesday.   Spokeswoman Stephanie Wheeler says a 500 foot-long washout near Gold Creek, 35 miles north of Talkeetna has crews scrambling.  “The track is dangling," she says, "and right now we’ve got crews on site who are dropping fill material and large rocks called riprap and trying to rebuild the track bed.”

High water is also causing problems north of the Alaska Range.  In the village of Nenana, where the Nenana River meets the Tanana, the fire department closed access to the boat launch Saturday after twelve inches of water flooded the road.  The closure likely surprised the 50 or so Moose hunters who had parked their pick-up trucks and boat trailers on site.