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‘It was a long night’: Delta’s First-responders, Volunteers Hustle to Help Flooding Victims

Tim Ellis/KUAC

Warm weather has triggered rapid melting of last winter’s above-average snowfall, and that’s caused some serious flooding in communities around the Interior. Delta Junction-area first-responders helped more than 15 families whose homes were flooded. And with even warmer temperatures in the forecast for the coming week, volunteers have begun filling 10-thousand sandbags to divert flooding from Delta-area homes and businesses.

About 40 volunteers from around the Delta area turned out Saturday morning at a local fire station to fill 500 sandbags to replace the 300 or so they’d used the night before to protect a house south of town from being swamped by floodwaters.

“It was a long night,” says Tim Castleberry, chief of Rural Deltana Volunteer Fire Department.

“The water was over knee-high, and then it was coming up through the floorboards in the house,” he said of the Friday night rescue. “So, we pumped it down enough, we got it down below the floor level. We ended up calling Red Cross for them last night, and got them a hotel room for the next couple of days.”

Castleberry said volunteers from Rural-Deltana and other organizations had responded to at least 15 flooding calls since Wednesday. They were busy again later Saturday, after they got a report of rising water around Delta Meat and Sausage, a meat-packing plant about about eight miles south of town on the Alaska Highway. That’s an agricultural area where meltoff from Granite Mountain and the eastern reach of the Alaska Range is accumulating.

“There’s a lot of snow,” says Jeff Kinsman, who heads up the local Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT.

“So, what’s happening is the ground is frozen and the snow melts, but it has no place to go,” he said. “So it’s just running and pooling and running. And unfortunately, it’s damaged and destroyed several houses already.”

Credit Rural Delta VFD
As of Saturday, Rural Deltana firefighters had responded to at least 15 calls for help from residents whose homes had been swamped by rising floodwaters, like this one.

Kinsman works as an anti-terrorism expert on Fort Greely, and he heads up the local CERT team, which includes area first-responders from both Greely and Delta fire departments and volunteers from other organizations, like the Civil Air Patrol. CAP Lieutenant Jake Baugh said the local chapter’s members have been filling sandbags for three days.

“We were out here Thursday,” Baugh said. “We got the initial call last night, they had a house with imminent flooding. So we came out a filled a few hundred bags. Then we’re out here again today and – I don’t even know how many there is. There are so many bags out here now.”

Castleberry says the local CERT team got 10,000 bags from the state, which the volunteers were filling with sand from three 10-yard dumptruck loads donated by the local concrete plant. He hopes all those sandbags won’t be needed, so they can be shared with other communities. But he says the weather forecast makes him worry that Delta may need most, if not all of them.

“This next week, the weather is showing (daytime highs) reaching up into the mid- to upper 50s,” he said. “So, yeah, we’re going to probably see a lot more thawing and water moving.”

If that forecast bears out, Castleberry, Kinsman and the rest of the CERT have a busy week ahead of them – and so do the platoon of volunteer sand-shovelers.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.