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Emergency crews busy with flood responses

More floods are expected after ice jams washed out highways, killed pets and damaged several homes across the Yukon this past week.

More floods are expected after ice jams washed out highways, killed pets and damaged several homes across the Yukon this past week.

The high-altitude snowpack is only just beginning to melt, said the Yukon’s chief hydrologist Richard Janowicz, following the first wave of melting snow that intensified ice jams in the Yukon, Pelly and Porcupine rivers.

“The winter was colder than normal, so the ice is thicker than normal,” said Janowicz. “And that week or 10 days of really warm weather caused the lower-elevation snowpack to melt off very rapidly and that caused the ice to break up while (the river flow) was still very strong.”

Upper Liard, Mayo and Ross River are all on flood watch for the next few weeks as unblocked rivers begin to absorb heavy runoff from the mountains.

The Liard River’s water level forecast has worsened so much that plans to sandbag an existing dike have been abandoned. Instead, the dike will be permanently strengthened and repaired.

Sandbags wouldn’t be enough, said engineers from Vancouver-based EBA Engineering Consultants Ltd. after visiting the site on Monday

“It won’t be the dike that we want, but it’s going to be more than sandbags,” said Jean Legare, a resident of Upper Liard. “They’re going to patch the weak spots.”

The Liard River Watershed’s snowpack conditions are “exceedingly above normal,” said Janowicz’s latest snowpack study, with peak flows in the river expected to be 159 per cent above normal levels.

Heavy snow around the Pelly and Stewart rivers have added both Mayo and Ross River to the list of vulnerable communities. A month ago, only Upper Liard made that list.

The predictions come on the heels of a busy week for emergency response crews, which had to respond to a surging Klondike River, an ice-jammed Yukon River, a rescue situation on the Pelly River and tense preparation for flooding in Old Crow that, thankfully, never happened.

“(The ice-jam flooding) is earlier than on the average” said Michael Templeton, manager of the Emergency Measures Organization. “It’s more events than what would be deemed a normal spring.”

A Yukon couple living upstream from Eagle, Alaska, which was decimated by flooding last week, is now back home and safe.

“Last I heard they’re cleaning up,” said Templeton, who added that he received an e-mail from them Thursday morning.

Emergency measures had been keeping tabs on them throughout the week, he said.

The Klondike Highway north of Carmacks and the Dempster Highway were closed due to rising water levels on the Nordenskiold and Peel rivers respectively.

The village of Carmacks requested sandbags from emergency measures’ stockpile, said Templeton.

“Fire and wildlife crews were there supporting the community and Highways and Public Works were working on the bridge there,” he said.

Volunteer firefighters waited by the Porcupine River to see if an ice jam would hold near Old Crow as well.

“The community and ourselves are very relieved that the ice broke and went out without causing any damage,” said Templeton.

The Rock Creek community near Dawson had to be evacuated when the Klondike River breached its banks on May 2.

“The local firefighters took the lead on that event,” said Templeton. “They arranged for a front-end loader to go in and help carry people out.”

This happened just as the Yukon River hit one of its highest water levels in recorded history, said Templeton.

“Right around the time of Rock Creek and before Old Crow, the Yukon River at Dawson did go up as well,” he said.

And a Faro man, Doug Hannah, had to save himself near the Pelly River after RCMP were slow to rescue him and his dogs.

A friend eventually came to rescue Hannah with an Argo, a move that the RCMP claimed they provided through emergency measures.

But according to Templeton, emergency measures received a call from Hannah and they informed the RCMP, after receiving assurances from Hannah that he was temporarily safe, said Templeton.

That was the extent of their involvement, he said.

“We don’t have any EMO staff in the communities,” he said. “We didn’t task out the search-and-rescue team because we had no request to task them out.”

“My understanding is that (the rescue team) were friends of the person (in distress.)”

Emergency rescue falls on the shoulders of municipal firefighters and the RCMP throughout the Yukon. The Emergency Measures Organization is a three-person team in Whitehorse that co-ordinates responses to these groups, said Templeton.

Every RCMP detachment has at least one boat, one snowmobile and one ATV, said RCMP spokesperson Mark Groves.

Contact James Munson at