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Gov. Dunleavy issues disaster declaration for 2024 spring floods

A truck drives through floodwater on Sixth Avenue in Bethel. May 9, 2024.
MaryCait Dolan
A truck drives through floodwater on Sixth Avenue in Bethel. May 9, 2024.

Amid historic breakup flooding on the Kuskokwim River, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has issued a disaster declaration for lower Kuskokwim River communities. The declaration allows eligible communities and individuals to access state funds for emergency-related costs and provide assistance.

Multiple communities on the lower Kuskokwim are still flooded with icy water.

The Kuskokwim River cut a channel through a problematic ice jam below Bethel last night and water levels dropped slightly. But that area reportedly re-jammed on May 10, increasing flooding in Napaskiak, Oscarville, and Bethel. Upriver, Kwethluk continues to see flood impacts as well.

National Weather Service Hydrometeorologist Kyle Van Peursem joined KYUK’s morning show, “Coffee at KYUK,” on May 10.

“Until this ice jam can push further downstream, we're not going to have any improvement. In fact, it's probably going to get worse," Van Peursem said.

There’s a flood warning in effect for the Kuskokwim River, Brown’s Slough, and surrounding areas in effect through the morning of Monday, May 13. Kwethluk is also on flood warning through midday on May 13.

Roughly 6 miles downriver from Bethel, waters have continued to threaten Napaskiak, where the community’s airport has become an island only accessible by boat across a roughly half-mile stretch of water, according to Napaskiak resident Earl Samuelson.

As of May 10, Samuelson said that water had filled all of the low-lying areas in the community and was within 8 to 10 inches of inundating some homes. He said that it is the highest water he has seen in Napaskiak since 1995.

“Folks that are out there traveling by boat, keep the wake down in front of town because these homes are critical right now,” Samuelson said.

Samuelson also said that the school in Napaskiak is ready to be used as an evacuation shelter depending on what happens in the coming hours.

“If you're gonna to go to the school, please have a day pack or a backpack with extra food for a couple of days, water, medications, and your important materials,” Samuelson said. “It might be a good time to pack that up in case we decide to do an evac or temporary at the school.”

Van Peursem said that small drops in river level are not necessarily an indication that the ice jam is starting to break up.

“We've seen the past 24 hours that kind of will go up, drop a little bit, go up, drop a little bit. There's no sign of it just dropping until that jam breaks,” Van Peursem said. “So expect flooding, and where people have seen flooding in Bethel, for the next day or so, if not more.”

Bethel’s city government announced on May 10 that areas impacted by flooding will not receive hauled water services until the river water recedes. That includes Main Street, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Avenues, Bridge Street, Tundra Street, Alder, East Avenue, Hangar Lake, and Osier Avenue.

As of 11 a.m. on May 10, water levels at the Brown’s Slough gauge in Bethel were still at 11.48 feet, which is the highest in decades and within a half-foot of what is considered moderate flooding, where evacuation of some homes can become necessary. On May 9, the city urged residents to prepare for things to get worse, and for vehicles to stay away from the seawall due to soft and hazardous conditions.

Upriver, Kwethluk’s flooding continues to be the worst seen this breakup season so far. As of last night, officials reported flooding rose 1 to 2 feet in the community.

“The Kwethluk River is completely full. In fact we flew up, and you can’t even tell where the river was because the whole tundra up there was flooded with water," Van Peursem said. "We did get word this morning that the water levels increasingly look stabilized. So I think that's a good sign that things are trending then in the positive, in the right direction for them. So hopefully we've kind of crested in terms of water levels.”

Van Peursem said that ice looks like it’s degrading below Napakiak and toward the Johnson River. He said that based on how the jam has been moving or not moving, area residents can expect at least another 24 hours of rising water.

Breakup and flood-related information can change quickly, and this article may be updated to reflect more current information.

Share photos or observations with KYUK at 907-543-0223 or by emailing

Corrected: May 10, 2024 at 2:57 PM AKDT
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the disaster declaration applied to lower Yukon River communities.
Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
Sage Smiley is KYUK's news director.
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