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Alaska governor issues disaster declaration for areas affected by flooding from breakup of river ice

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Mike Dunleavy has issued a state disaster declaration for southwest Alaska communities that have experienced flooding due to the spring breakup of river ice and snowmelt.

Water surrounded some homes in low-lying areas of the regional hub of Bethel, while much of Kwethluk was flooded and high water cut off access to the airport in Napaskiak, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

Kwethluk, which has about 790 residents, is 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of Bethel and is the second-largest community along the Lower Kuskokwim River. Napaskiak is 7 miles (11 kilometers) southeast of Bethel and on the east bank of the Kuskokwim River.

Dave Streubel, a hydrologist with the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center, said water levels in Bethel this week reached their highest point in nearly 20 years.

The quicker-than-usual rise of waters in Kwethluk caught that community off guard, acting city manager Samuel Nicori said. A state emergency management update Friday said some homes and the airstrip access road had been inundated with water, and that the sewage system was shut down due to flooding. Bottled water was flown in.

“We have limited mobility throughout the community,” Nicori said. “So basically people with waders and canoes are going throughout the community.”

Jeremy Zidek, a spokesperson with the state emergency management office, said significant snow amounts and ice contributed to the higher waters and flooding. Streubel said conditions were made worse by an ice dam that formed near the mouth of the Kuskokwim River.

A flood warning was in effect until Monday morning for the Kuskokwim River.