Floodwaters receded Saturday from much of the Alaska tourist town of Talkeetna, giving residents a chance to begin cleaning the muddy mess left behind — but officials warned that the danger hadn't passed and advised that people boil their water.
Rivers and streams draining from the Talkeetna Mountains have crested and water levels fell steadily Friday night, the National Weather Service said. Meteorologists said they don't expect rainfall on Saturday to significantly increase river levels, but a flood warning remained in effect for the area until 10 p.m. Sunday as many waterways remained above flood stage.
The Talkeetna River crested at 15.65 feet on Friday, just below the level considered major flooding. It had receded to 12.5 feet by Saturday afternoon, just above the 12-foot flood mark. Only two streets in Talkeetna remained flooded, the Anchorage Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/UDvlWG).
Talkeetna is the last stop for climbers heading to Mount McKinley, North America's tallest mountain. It also has an eclectic population, and has long been purported to be the inspiration for the Alaska town in the TV series, "Northern Exposure."
Longtime residents told the Daily News that flooding was the worst they'd seen in more than 30 years. Still, emergency responders said it could've been worse.
"Luckily, we didn't have any buildings float away," said Mike Krepel, who runs the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum with his wife, Jenny.
Krepel used a large pump to drain the museum's flooded first floor.
"It blew its way in pretty quick," Krepel said. "We don't think we lost anything important, but we were going pretty hard for several hours."
Flooding has caused problems over a wide swath of Alaska this week, from Talkeetna to the port town of Seward, 175 miles to the south.
Department of Transportation crews have been working to protect several bridges on the Glenn Highway from fast-moving water. The road — the only highway leading north out of Anchorage — leads to Wasilla and Willow and into Denali National Park.
The American Red Cross of Alaska has opened three shelters in recent days, and a fourth was opened Saturday at the state fairgrounds in Palmer, about 40 miles northeast of Anchorage, where evacuees could park recreational vehicles.
Gov. Sean Parnell declared a state disaster Friday for communities hard-hit by recent storms. The declaration covers the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which includes Seward, and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which includes Talkeetna, Wasilla and several other towns, the governor's office said.
It was too soon to estimate damage and no injuries have been reported.
"We're just waiting for the next storm to come in, and then we'll start the rodeo all over again," said Vickilee Fenster, a spokeswoman for the Mat-Su Borough's Emergency Operations Center.