ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Floodwaters receded Saturday from much of the tourist town of Talkeetna, giving residents a chance to begin cleaning the muddy mess left behind — but officials warned that the danger hadn't passed and advised that people boil their water.
About 200 miles south, in Cooper Landing on the Kenai Peninsula, the Kenai River had yet to crest and the National Weather Service extended a flood warning until Monday afternoon saying that the river will continue rising. Residents of one subdivision were told to be ready to evacuate.
Forecasters said rain would continue falling Sunday, making it tough to predict how high waterways would rise on the peninsula and when they'll crest.
The outlook seemed a bit better in Talkeetna. Rivers and streams draining from the Talkeetna Mountains had crested and water levels fell steadily Friday night, the weather service said. Meteorologists said they don't expect rainfall to significantly increase river levels there, but a flood warning remained in effect for the area as many waterways remained above flood stage.
The Talkeetna River crested at 15.65 feet on Friday, just below the level considered major flooding. It had receded to 12.5 feet by Saturday afternoon, just above the 12-foot flood mark. Only two streets in Talkeetna remained flooded, the Anchorage Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/UDvlWG).
Talkeetna is the last stop for climbers heading to Mount McKinley, North America's tallest mountain. It also has an eclectic population, and has long been purported to be the inspiration for the Alaska town in the TV series, "Northern Exposure."
Longtime residents told the Daily News that flooding was the worst they'd seen in more than 30 years. Still, emergency responders said it could've been worse.
"Luckily, we didn't have any buildings float away," said Mike Krepel, who runs the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum with his wife, Jenny.
Krepel used a large pump to drain the museum's flooded first floor.
"It blew its way in pretty quick," Krepel said. "We don't think we lost anything important, but we were going pretty hard for several hours."
Flooding has caused problems over a wide swath of Alaska this week, from Talkeetna to the port town of Seward, 175 miles to the south.
Department of Transportation crews have been working to protect several bridges on the Glenn Highway from fast-moving water. The road is one of two land routes out of populated areas in Anchorage and Wasilla, and the only one in southern Alaska.
The Alaska Railroad was closed through Wednesday as crews repair tracks and bridges, including a 500-foot stretch that was left dangling when the ground beneath it washed out about 35 miles north of Talkeetna.
The American Red Cross of Alaska has opened three shelters in recent days, and a fourth was opened Saturday at the state fairgrounds in Palmer, about 40 miles northeast of Anchorage, where evacuees could park recreational vehicles.
Gov. Sean Parnell declared a state disaster Friday for communities hard-hit by recent storms. The declaration covers the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which includes Seward, and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which includes Talkeetna, Wasilla and several other towns, the governor's office said.
It was too soon to estimate damage and no injuries have been reported.
"We're just waiting for the next storm to come in, and then we'll start the rodeo all over again," said Vickilee Fenster, a spokeswoman for the Mat-Su Borough's Emergency Operations Center.