Dawsonites help rebuild Eagle

The biggest springtime flood on record nearly destroyed Eagle, Alaska. Dawson City residents are finishing the job. There's work to be done before the town can be rebuilt, after all.

The biggest springtime flood on record nearly destroyed Eagle, Alaska.

Dawson City residents are finishing the job.

There’s work to be done before the town can be rebuilt, after all.

What can be salvaged must be pulled from homes smashed beyond repair by river ice.

And, once gutted, those homes must be demolished and cleared away before the race begins to build new homes before the long winter arrives.

Enter a gang of nine Dawsonites who rolled into Eagle earlier this month in a van stuffed with supplies, during the first of several similar trips.

Over a weekend, they helped pull apart a house and salvage belongings. They built an outhouse for an elderly women. They pulled screws and nails.

Hardly glamorous work. But their help was immensely appreciated by Eagle residents who had lost their home and belongings. Blindsided by the flood, many didn’t know where to start.

“It’s huge. The response from Dawson has by far been the biggest response we’ve had. It’s been incredible,” said Andy Bassich, who is co-ordinating the rebuilding efforts in Eagle.

“On the ground, by far, the Canadians and the people from Dawson City have been by far the biggest on-the-ground contributor to helping us here.

“The compassion really comes through. They care about us. They’ve obviously been through this before.”

Dawson was hit by a flood in 1979 so severe that residents paddled down the city’s main streets in canoes and entered buildings through second-storey balconies. Bits of boardwalk became unmoored and drifted through town, in some cases carrying dogs as passengers.

But the damage wreaked by Eagle’s flood in early May was far more terrible.

Buildings nearest to shore suffered the worst damage as unclogged jumble ice steamrolled through town, knocking buildings off their foundation and flattening pick-up trucks, freighter canoes and fish wheels.

The village’s hotels, restaurant and general store were all wrecked by the onslaught. And the old village is completely wiped out, its buildings either flattened or shoved up into the forest.

It’s believed that 35 homes were destroyed or displaced. Fifteen businesses were destroyed or severely damaged.

Further from the river, another 24 homes were flooded. At the flood’s peak, waters reached 16.5 metres above normal, reported the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.

The flood ruptured diesel tanks, leaving the wrecked town reeking of fuel. The flood also fouled the town’s wells.

Remarkably, no one died during the flood, save a few dogs.

Water is now being trucked in from Tok. The general store has re-opened in a new building. Fuel is now available. But the village’s tourism infrastructure is destroyed. Belongings remain strewn around town. Many remain without homes.

US President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Eagle earlier this month. But, while federal and state authorities were quick to supply food and clean water to Eagle’s residents, help with reconstruction has proven far more sluggish.

Dawson’s Bill Bowie visited Eagle first and saw its residents needed help.

He approached Eldo Enns, Dawson’s chief administrative officer. Enns in turn called Jack Vogt, who has performed disaster relief in South America.

Soon they had their van full of supplies and volunteers.

“None of us were prepared for what we saw. We were all in a state of awe. Devastation,” said Enns. “I thought, wow, this town was just eaten up.”

What was closest to the water was completely destroyed. Further up, the destruction was like that in a town hit by a tornado, with one building completely destroyed next to another that appeared untouched, said Enns.

He recalls peering into one building, knocked so far a kilter that you could see through its second-storey balcony from the ground deck. Resting on the dining-room table were hands of playing cards, left undisturbed after its occupants had fled.

One car had been crushed by ice so that “the highest point was the stick-shift. That’s how flattened that car was,” said Enns.

Over the weekend the Dawsonites stripped from a home everything worth saving, then cut the building in half and hauled it away with a commandeered front-end loader.

Eagle hopes to rebuild 13 homes that belonged to full-time residents before winter.

The new homes will be modest: two-storey log cabins, 5.5 by six metres.

Each cabin is expected to cost $40,000. Federal disaster money only covers up to $30,000. But the Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief agency, recently agreed to pay the remaining cost for each home.

They hope to begin construction in early July. But there’s a lot of salvage work to be done before then.

“We’re really working on trying to ramp up our volunteer efforts, so we can get our salvage done on the homes before they get destroyed,” said Bassich.

Vogt has led several follow-up salvage trips this month. And Dawsonites have helped in other ways, too.

Bowie’s business, Arctic Inland Lumber, has donated slab wood, sheds and firewood. The Pioneer Women of the Yukon raised enough money to buy a nailer. Hotels have donated linen and pillows.

And the Yukon Queen II is now providing free transportation for volunteers from Dawson to Eagle.

But more help is still needed.

To assist in Dawson’s relief efforts, call Jim Regibald at 993-7407.

Contact John Thompson

at johnt@yukon-news.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

City council meeting in Whitehorse on Feb. 8. At Whitehorse city council’s March 1 meeting, members were presented with a bylaw that would repeal 10 bylaws deemed to be redundant or out of date. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Out with the old

Council considers repealing outdated bylaws

A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon will have “delayed spring” after heavy winter snowfall

After record levels of precipitation, cold spring will delay melt

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

Most Read