Northwest Alaska village of Buckland floods due to ice jam

The Northwest Arctic village of Buckland has seen flooding since Wednesday night. Aerial footage taken on May 13, 2021 shows ice break-up east of town on the Buckland River. (Photo courtesy of John Jones)

An ice jam caused by warming spring temperatures near the Northwest Alaska community of Buckland has left most of the village underwater on Thursday and prompted residents to prepare to evacuate.

Buckland is home to roughly 400 people. It’s located on the bank of the Buckland River, about 75 miles southeast of Kotzebue.

Nathan Hadley Jr., Buckland’s vice mayor, said he noticed water starting to rise in the village Wednesday night.

“Around maybe 7:30, 8 at night, I was cooking a late dinner and I could see the ice moving through the river really fast,” Hadley said.

Minutes later, he said, the water started gushing from the Buckland River onto the land.

“I got my hip waders and started moving my children’s motorcycles, snowmachines, my truck, the side-by-side, and bringing them to higher ground,” he said. “And I came back to deal with the things in my house that I needed to save.”

The community has seen flooding in the past, but it hasn’t been this bad in years, said Hadley.

“We never had a flood like this in over 20 years,” he said. “The water has gotten high in the past, but not this bad. We were basically not ready for it.”

By Thursday, the flooding had cut off access to the airport road as people prepared to leave by boat if water levels kept rising.

Hadley said the city of Buckland and the local tribal council have been coordinating with volunteers to assist community members by boat.

He hadn’t heard any reports of injuries, and volunteer responders were working to secure homes so they don’t float away, he said.

Flooding outside Buckland resident Timothy Gavin’s house on May 13, 2021 (Timothy Gavin photo)

Incident commander Raymond Lee Jr. said they have seven boats on hand for rescue efforts.

“Two houses evacuated, and there are three of them, they were ready to evacuate but they put everything up, but the water didn’t go in their house so they were okay,” he said.

There are two different evacuation locations for residents, and one of them is for people in quarantine due to COVID-19 safety mandates, he said.

“The old blue building is for people that are in quarantine, house quarantine, and the ones that are not in quarantine, they are all going to head to the gym at the school,” Lee said. “There are seven homes that are in quarantine.”

Right now, ice is jammed on the river below Buckland, and Hadley said that will need to clear up for the flooding to slow down.

“If that part of the ice breaks up, then the water will have a place to go, flowing down,” he said.

The water levels were steady through Thursday morning, but Hadley anticipates they’ll rise once the temperatures get warmer later in the day.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the community through Saturday morning.

KOTZ’s Nicole Edmison contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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