Northwest Alaska village of Buckland assessing flood damage as water levels drop

A village with just houses visible above the water
An aerial view of the Northwest Arctic village of Buckland on May 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy of John Jones)

Water levels in the Northwest Alaska village of Buckland have declined after a river ice jam led to major flooding last week.

The National Weather Service says the ice jam had cleared by Monday, and water levels had dropped roughly 15 feet. That’s about a three-quarters decrease from the highest flood levels, said local incident commander Raymond Lee Jr.

So far, there have been no reports of injuries due to the flood.

But the rapidly-rising waters did damage homes and others structures. Responders are still assessing the extent of the damage, Lee said.

“I believe there’s like 20 homes that might be affected by the flood damage due to the insulation to the homes, under the house and on the floors,” he said.

Buckland is home to about 400 people, and sits on the bank of the Buckland River, about 75 miles southeast of Kotzebue. The flooding started last Wednesday.

On Monday morning, Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration for Buckland, opening up state public assistance resources to the community.

“The flooding caused significant damage to homes, roads and utility infrastructure so a declaration is warranted to get the community back on its feet as soon as possible,” Dunleavy said in a statement.

A person observes flooding with ice around
Flooding outside Buckland resident Timothy Gavin’s house on May 13, 2021 (Timothy Gavin photo)

The City of Buckland and the Northwest Arctic Borough have also both declared disasters.

Lee said the city has recently lifted the local boil water notice for Buckland residents, after water treatment plant officials ensured that sewer systems were back to normal.

The village hopes to use the disaster relief to begin to address infrastructure, he said.

“There’s a lot of big rocks exposed on main roads that we use, and also the foundation of the padding on the homes,” he said. “There’s a lot of shifting due to the in and out of the backwash of the flood waters.

The relief funds will also likely be used help residents who lost propane and stove oil during the flooding. 

“Stove oil tank holders that hold the stove oil tanks were ripped off and propane tanks were ripped off,” Lee said. “I think they’re going to use those, the ones that gave the money, so they can start cooking and doing things at home normally.”

As Buckland continues to get back to normal, Lee thanked all of the local and state organizations for coming together to help the community. He singled out praise for Maniilaq Association, the regional health care provider, and Red Dog Mine for donating water to the village’s elders.

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Wesley is a reporter for Alaska Public Media, covering primarily city government and Anchorage life. He previously worked at Alaska Public Media as a web editor, producer and education reporter before a two-year stint in Kotzebue, AK as News Director for KOTZ-AM.

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