One large home was washed into Mendenhall River, and multiple homes closer to Mendenhall Glacier were flooded and cut off from road access Saturday in what officials are calling the worst release of water from Suicide Basin since annual cycles began in 2011.
”At least one structure has been lost to the river and others are at risk and/or have been evacuated,” an update released by the City and Borough of Juneau at 9 p.m. stated. “The CBJ emergency operations center recommends residents of Marion Drive evacuate overnight due to concerns of potential bank failure that could result in quick overnight land wasting.”
(Video of home collapsing into the Mendenhall River due to flooding on Saturday by Sam Nolan.)
The bridge across Mendenhall River on Back Loop Road and the footbridge at Dimond Park were closed, according to the city.
“For the sake of emergency teams and impacted residents, please stay away from the River through the duration of the event,” the notice states.
An update issued by the National Weather Service at 7:30 a.m. Sunday stated Mendenhall Lake crested at 11:15 p.m. Saturday at a level of 14.97 feet, well above the previous record of 11.99 feet in July of 2016.
“The water level is falling rapidly at a rate of 0.7ft per hour, however flooding is ongoing as are impacts along the banks,” the weather service update stated. “Significant flooding has been reported with water in areas that previously have not seen flooding. Significant bank erosion has been reported as well with a few structures lost to the river. Tree-fall and debris are in the river. The U.S. Coast Guard recommend mariners use caution in the affected areas.”
The flood warning remains in effect until 10 a.m. Sunday, according to the weather service.
Residents of the cut-off homes on View Drive, along with friends and other locals offering help on Saturday, used motor boats, kayaks and other watercraft to bring generators to homes where AEL&P turned off the power, retrieve belongings and stranded pets, and check on the condition of homes and vehicles.
Aaron Jacobs, a senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service, said at about 5 p.m. the water levels were 13.6 feet above normal, and at that point could not predict when or how high the peak crest would be.
“This is uncharted territory,” he said. “We’ve never had it this high before.”
Jacobs said Mendenhall Campground was evacuated due to being flooded and is scheduled to remain closed until Monday.
Since 2011, the glacier-dammed lake in Suicide Basin above Juneau releases water and often floods into the valley below. Before Saturday’s release, the largest outburst to occur happened in July 2016 where 16,000 cubic feet per second of water burst through the Mendenhall River.
Jacobs said the flow as of 5 p.m. Saturday was about 20,900 cubic feet per second.
Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Richard Etheridge said at 7 p.m. CCFR officials had evacuated one condo and two houses off Riverside Drive and a crew was out to keep people away from the riverbanks. No injuries have been reported.
The flood waters covered the driveway and were lapping into the yard of Angela Babcock’s home on View Drive. But despite the possibility early Saturday evening the waters could rise still further, she said they weren’t planning to move items from the house or take other precautions.
“I think we’ll just wait and see once it crests,” she said, adding her husband checked the crawl space of the house and it was still dry.
Among those who evacuated their cut-off homes was Candy Sims, who said she and her husband also helped several neighbors — and their pets and belongings — make it to the other side of the flooded road.
“My husband’s jet boat was in the driveway, so we launched that to bring people back and forth,” she said.
City and Borough of Juneau Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice said he alongside other emergency responders and good samaritans helped evacuate residents of at least six homes that experienced flooding Saturday afternoon into the evening.
Mattice said city officials will continue to monitor the situation, assess the damage and begin a cleanup effort once the water has dropped. He said due to the power being out in some places, that means the sewer systems to the homes affected are also inoperable.
“The city will definitely be working on this for several days,” he said.”We’re looking forward to the water dropping so we can get power back on and get everything back to normal — but there’s going to be a few days of cleanup.”
Mattice said because many areas suffered riverbank damage “they are undercut and will be very dangerous for quite some time,” and he urged people to steer clear of the area if possible.
“Please stay away from the river bank, anywhere that has not been really hardened with rock is very weak right now,” he said. “Trees are falling in, riverbanks are falling in, and as the river drops that’s going to get worse, not better.”
Members of the public impacted by flooding and in need of guidance should contact (907) 586-0600, according to the city’s 9 p.m. update.