Dozens of residents spent Sunday removing belongings from homes hanging over the edge of riverbanks, and began the long cleanup and salvage process of residences that can be saved following flooding from what officials are calling the worst release of water from Suicide Basin since the annual cycle began in 2011, which was declared a local emergency by the city.
According to National Weather Service Juneau, flooding was no longer expected to pose a threat near the Mendenhall River following the expiration of its flood warning late Sunday morning. The agency warned of “serious hazards” that will persist in the area as cleanup begins and the river level continues to fall.
“Heed remaining road closures, stay out of the river and away from unstable banks, and give plenty of space for resources to provide assistance,” a social media post stated.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation made an announcement to residents late Sunday morning as well, warning the dam’s release has caused severe erosion along the Mendenhall River and the agency would be partnering with the U.S. Coast Guard to assess any pollution spills that have happened from the damaged/lost properties affected by the event.
The agency encouraged residents who see loose home heating oil tanks swept away by the event to notify the DEC spill line with details of its location at (800) 478-9300.
The City and Borough of Juneau advised residents to stay away from the river Sunday for safety and to avoid obstructing any response efforts underway. According to Deputy City Manager Robert Barr, the city is currently working with state officials to upgrade the local declaration of emergency to a state declaration of emergency.
He said that upgrade, if approved, could open the doors to more funding both for supporting agencies involved in the event and for private entities as well to recoup some of their losses. He said in the short term the CBJ streets crew will be spending the coming days doing street cleanup and damage assessments.
“There’s going to be a lot of silt and debris left behind by the floodwaters that we want to clear off for the public right away, and will continue to be coordinating with DOT,” he said.
Barr said a long-term goal now for the city is to investigate what changed in Suicide Basin to allow it to have such a dramatic increase in the amount of water released and to assess how to prepare for similar events in the future.
“We’re going to try to figure out what changed about Suicide Basin and glacial retreats, and kind of all the associated science there that resulted in such such an increase in the amount of water that we saw this year that we’ve just never seen before so we have better predictive models for the future,” he said.
Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Richard Etheridge said CCFR officials are not looped in with the cleanup efforts, but crews will be available for any 911 emergencies.