Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Eagle Alaska Needs Help!

A few years ago I worked as a cook for an archaeological field school on the 40Mile River in far Eastern Alaska. That's literally "near the middle of nowhere" for those unfamiliar with Alaskan geography. We staged out of Eagle, a teensy town on the Yukon River, about 100 miles downstream of Dawson (Yukon Territory, Canada). It's a tight little community of between 100-125 people (depending on who's fed up and leaving/who's trying the homesteading experience). It's also the site of historic Ft. Egbert.

I was there in July and August, and even then the river was a huge, silent grey behemoth, making at least six knots and cold as death. It's a powerful thing. Every Winter this force of nature freezes solid. It's Alaska (and the Yukon), remember? This makes a great "highway" for dog sleds and "snow machines" to get easily to the communities along the river. In the Spring, they wait for "breakup", when the ice (we're talking super thick ice, here, 5' and more) start to pop and crack with sounds like distant and not so distant artillery. At some point the pressure of the water wins over the slowly melting ice, and the grinding, crunching train of ice moves down the river. This process takes days. Please look at a map of the Yukon in case you still have no idea how big it is.

This year, nature, as is her wont, mixed things up a bit. Last week Alaska experienced a bit of a heat wave, and tributary streams thawed, inundating rivers with early runoff. The big, deep-ice Yukon did not, of course, melt instantly. Breakup takes time, and the impatient streams feeding the giant river made things...unstable. On the morning of Monday, May 4th, a huge jumble of monster "icebergs" passed Dawson. When it reached the large bend in the river where Eagle sits, it jammed. I won't go into detail. You can read about it at the Fairbanks news site.

No fatalities, but this community is devastated. They have no power, limited water, and the medical center was one of the buildings that was "Titanic-ed". The old tribal village, just up river, is totally wiped out. The new village is above the flood, but has no power and water at this time. Helicopters are bringing in emergency supplies.

If you're interested in helping, there are several ways you can. If you'd like to make a monetary donation, there's always the Red Cross. There's a phone number on that page that you can call if you want your donation to go to a specific concern.

You can also send "stuff" directly to Eagle. Although the road is closed, and the airport (a little gravel strip) is cut off from town at the moment (I believe), this should change soon, and there are at least nine families that have lost everything. Fleece or wool jackets/shirts, wool trousers, foul-weather gear, knit hats, gloves, socks, and rubber boots are fashion mainstays at this time of year. Don't forget underwear, toiletries (the store was wiped out), pain-killers, emollient hand lotions (ever worked in cold, wet conditions?), soap, towels, etc.. I think the most sensible thing to do is send anything to the Eagle Bible Chapel, Amundson St, Eagle, AK 99738. I attended there during my short stay, and they will know who needs what. Just write "flood relief" on the box somewhere.

This is a small, fiercely independant community. They resent government interference and would much rather help each other or be contacted by "real people" than some agency. Put in a friendly letter, pictures of you and your kids and the dog! A bar of chocolate! It will mean a LOT to them. Winter is long, hard, and dreary up there. Most newcomers don't make it past their first one. Spring was looming, the sun was about to shine...and then this happened. Here's your chance to be a hero!


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