Fires, freeze, floods: Preparing for natural disasters in Chugiak-Eagle River

Friday, September 8, 2017 - 13:04
  • Peters Creek runs high through Chugiak on Aug. 31, 2017. The creek is occasionally susceptible to flooding. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

While Southern states grapple from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and recent deadly floods, Alaskan emergency planners focus on a different set of catastrophes: In Chugiak-Eagle River, the most likely natural disasters are earthquakes, wildfires and extreme winter weather events, according to the Anchorage Office of Emergency Management.

Preparation is key, said Andy Preis, emergency programs manager for education and outreach.

“If someone’s prepared for a high magnitude earthquake, they’re also going to be prepared for a flooding situation,” Preis said.

September is National Preparedness Month, and it’s always a good time for Alaskans to think about household emergency plans, Preis said. Online at www.muni.org/OEM, the municipality offers family checklists – including places to record contact information and a plan of action in case of an emergency.

A well-stocked emergency supply kit can help people withstand a variety of disasters, according to OEM. Municipal emergency planners recommend packing water – a gallon per person per day – as well as nonperishable foods, basic first aid supplies including bandages and nonprescription drugs, sanitary items like toilet paper and soap, sturdy clothes and shoes, bedding, tools, pet supplies, a crank radio, a flashlight and matches. Pack enough supplies to last five to seven days, and store it in an easy-to-access, portable container or backpack, according to OEM.

Online, the Office of Emergency Management offers specific advice for dealing with disasters ranging from avalanches to volcanoes to terrorism. Floods are not included on that list.

“In general, widespread flooding across the Municipality of Anchorage is not something that’s in our top three,” Preis said. “But it’s something that could potentially happen.”

Chugiak residents know that all too well: In years past, ice jams in Peters Creek have pushed the creek up over its banks, flooding nearby properties and roads. Anchorage itself covers nearly 10,000 acres of floodplain touching more than 3,500 individual parcels, according to the municipal Project Management and Engineering Department. Flooding in 1995, 1997, 2002 and 2005 caused millions of dollars in property and infrastructure damage, according to the municipality.

Though Alaska’s natural disasters can bring everything from water to fire to snow and ice, preparing for them all looks mostly the same, Preis said.

“If you’re prepared for one, you’re prepared for a lot,” he said.

Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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