Worsening ice jam in Willow Creek leaves floodwater nowhere to go

Deneki Bridge across Willow Creek surrounded by ice Dec. 22, 2019. (Stefan Hinman/Matanuska-Susitna Borough)

Flooding from Willow Creek in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough continues to make problems for local residents and emergency responders.

Since the weekend, an ice jam in the creek has caused unusual winter flooding, damaging nearby homes and property and rendering the Deneki Road impassable. The closure leaves residents almost totally cut off.

As local officials try to find a solution, they are contending with cold, snowy weather and rapidly changing conditions. On Thursday, responders discovered they can no longer access the staging areas they used before.

“The ice jam around the vehicles that were stuck has expanded, to where it’s limiting our access in and out right now. So we’re having trouble getting in there,” said Ken Barkley, who directs emergency services for the borough.

Dramatic video footage released by the borough earlier in the week shows roads flooded with thigh-high, ice-choked water as responders evacuated sled dogs on inflatable rafts.

Many residents opted to stay in their homes rather than evacuate, but temporarily left the area with emergency officials to stock up on food, fuel and supplies. Unsuccessful attempts to cross the flooded area have lead to rescues and abandoned vehicles, according to a statement from the borough.

Borough managers said Thursday that an unknown individual tried to clear the road on his or her own. That made the situation worse.

“It created more problems because it put berms on each sides of the road, which is now holding the water in,” Barkley said. “So now the water level is much deeper than what it was.”

Officials are asking the public not to perform any work on the Deneki Road.

According to Barkley, there are approximately 31 homes in the affected area, some of which are seasonal. The Borough believes there are 16 occupied houses in the affected area.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor Vern Halter issued a local disaster declaration and is asking the state for help. On Thursday, local, state and federal groups, including the National Guard and private engineering contractors, met to develop short and long-term plans for the flooding.