The Northwest Arctic village of Deering declared a disaster this week after a nearby river flooded the only road to the local airport. Spring and fall-time floods are becoming more common and the community is learning to adapt.
Deering sits on the southern side of Kotzebue Sound at the mouth of the Inmachuk River. The village of about 120 sees planes coming in and out daily, with most going to and from Kotzebue.
But Alvin Iyatunguk said that service stopped earlier this week when flooding prevented a plane from landing.
“That plane circle and took an observation of the road and flats back here, but had to report back to Kotzebue,” Iyatunguk said.
Iyatunguk is the Vice President of Deering’s Village IRA. He said an ice-jam from the Inmachuk River flooded the road to the airport.
“With the high temperatures, everything has just been melting all at once,” Iyatunguk said.
Jeremy Zidek is with the State of Alaska’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Operations.
“2015 and 2016 we had very low snow around the state and very warm temperatures,” Zidek said. “With those record temperatures come different events and different issues.”
Both Deering and the Northwest Arctic Borough issued disaster declarations this week in response to the flooding. Zidek said the borough requested the use of some Department of Transportation equipment to manage the situation.
In the meantime, Alvin Iyatunguk has been using some of his own equipment to help people get to from and Deering’s airport.
“I got an 18 ft. Lund boat here,” Iyatunguk said. “That’s my personal boat. I gased it up and pushed it into the water and got it going.”
Iyatunguk said he’s gotten used to the flooding. In fact, he said it happens twice a year now—once in the spring and once in the fall. Deering is working on building a road to the airport that would be outside the river’s floodplain.
Iyatunguk said it’s a consequence of global warming. Just like a lot other communities in rural Alaska, he said Deering will have to adapt to warmer temperatures, rising sea levels and eroding landscapes.
“We’re in the same boat as everybody else, I guess,” Iyatunguk said.