Call for evacuation made for elderly couple on rising floodwaters on Kuskokwim River

Kuskokwim flooding near the village of Napaimute. photo by DPS/AST

by Delta Discovery Staff

April 30, 2020 – An elderly couple living alone in their log cabin on the south bank 5 miles below Napaimute are in danger of rising floodwaters of the Kuskokwim from ice breakup.

There’s major flooding going on in the Napaimute area.

The call for help to evacuate the couple came during a riverwatch audioconference that began at 7pm on Thursday, April 30th, 2020.

The couple were reported to be sitting in their boat.

“Send a helicopter now!” said Mark Leary of Bethel Search and Rescue, his voice sounding urgent.

The message was sent out to the Troopers and the rescue coordination center to send help. It was also confirmed that the couple did indicate that they needed evacuation – a passing pilot flying overhead the couple relayed the message.

They were looking at approximately four to six hours.

“It might be Tuluksak, Akiak, Akiachak, Kalskag next – everybody is in eminent danger!” said Leary. He asked for resources to be called for now and to get ready to evacuate villages if needed right away.

The ice is going by really fast, said reports from the couple during the audioconference, so fast that it was scaring the wife. The couple have a VHF radio and had been in communication with others, but it was still unclear if they were still able to communicate.

“Two elders, we don’t do that to our elders,” said Leary.

“It is significantly more water than 2011,” said a person from Aniak.

Alvin Jimmie, of the Association of Village Council Presidents agreed that they need to get ready for evacuees.

The couple live year round in their log cabin that the husband built himself. He is one of the last of the old time trappers.

By 8:30pm, there was still discussion on coordinating possible evacuation resources and preparedness logistics.

“Our water is rising steady,” said a person from Akiak.

The ice in Aniak wasn’t moving, said Megan Leary, who had been checking the river. It was packed with ice.

“Do you guys (in Aniak) have a plan of evacuation?”

“Yes, the City of Aniak and the Fire Station have been planning,” said Megan. Most folks are ready with plenty of water, boats are ready, and the high school on higher ground will be the evacuation site.

Earl Samuelson of Napaskiak was also on the call. He reported that a helicopter has been dispatched, coming out of Anchorage to rescue the elderly couple.

“As soon as there’s an ETA, they will let me know,” said Samuelson. “They will bring them to Aniak.”

Folks in Aniak were getting ready to receive the elderly couple and provide them with a place to stay.

There are others who live alone in isolation in the area. Now is the time to get those people out of there at the old village across from Aniak, said Samuelson.

“Everybody across that little river over there need to come to high ground now,” he said.

Questions about whether or not the helicopter would be staged in the region to stand by in case there were other evacuations needed were also asked. Participants on the audioconference were naming off folks who lived in isolated areas who might need help getting to higher ground.

“When the ice comes there’s no stopping it,” said Mark Leary.

“Everyone on low ground needs to get up on high ground – Aniak, Kalskag – get to high ground before stuff happens,” said Samuelson.

Aniak’s evacuation site is ready at the high school – food, water, places for people to stay 6 feet apart due to COVID-19 precautions, said the Aniak Fire Department.

By 9:15pm, the audioconference was still going. Six hours for a response time is not good, they said. Still waiting on word on the helicopter, will update.

UPDATE (May 1st, 2020): The two elders, John and Seraphine Borowski, were rescued safely during the early morning hours by paratroopers from the Alaska Air National Guard 176th Wing via a HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. The rescue helicopter, which was sent from Anchorage, hoisted them out around midnight while a HC-130J Hercules circled above. The Borowski’s were safely brought to Aniak.

Thank you to the rescuers for a successful evacuation!