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Jammed river ice causes flood in Alaska village

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - More than a third of the inhabitants of a tiny native village in Alaska have been evacuated after flooding caused by jammed river ice swamped homes and public facilities, officials said on Tuesday.

Fifty-three residents of Crooked Creek, a Yupik Eskimo and Athabascan Indian village of 137 people on the Kuskokwim River in southwestern Alaska, were taken to drier ground at a nearby mine, said Jeremy Zidek, spokesman for Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The river flood has poured water and ice chunks into about 70 percent of the village's homes, some of which were knocked off their foundations, Zidek said.

The flooding also caused a power outage, submerged the access road to the village airport and damaged communications equipment, state officials said.

No injuries have been reported, Zidek said.

The extent of damage is difficult to determine for now, he said. "The water is still high. It's hard to get that damage assessment."

Once water levels fall and people can return to Crooked Creek, a disaster-response team will start that analysis, he said.

River overflows in parts of Alaska are common in spring, when large chunks of melting ice move downstream and sometimes collect in jumbled piles that block water flow.

A rapid spring thaw in 2009 caused record flooding along the Yukon River near the Canadian border.

Crooked Creek is the site hardest-hit by Alaska spring flooding so far this year.

Evacuated residents remain at the Donlin Creek Mine, about 10 miles north of the village, after being flown there by mine employees starting on Monday, Zidek said.

State emergency officials are on alert for more flooding to come, he said.

The National Weather Service has issued flood watches and warnings for the entire lower Kuskokwim River. And the Yukon River, which is longer than the Kuskokwim and holds far more ice, has also started its spring melt.

"We're still very early in the season," Zidek said.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton)

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