Some Denali guests, employees marooned by flooding; park service organizes airlift
DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE, Alaska — Officials have organized an airlift for dozens of lodge guests and lodge employees at Denali National Park and Preserve after flooding hit one lodge and flooding and rockfalls prompted the closure of the only road into the park.
Park spokeswoman Kris Fister says rains had swelled small streams by Thursday. Flooding in the Kantishna area, near the end of the 92-mile road, prompted a road closure near Wonder Lake. Later in the day, falling rock closed the road at the Eielson Visitor Center. That's located at Mile 66, or about two-thirds of the way into the park.
Fister says more than 100 Denali Backcountry Lodge guests and employees were evacuated by bus Thursday after the lodge flooded. They were taken to a smaller nearby lodge, which was providing food but couldn't house them all. So Fister said Thursday night an airlift was under way using two helicopters and several small planes to transport those people to either buses at a ranger station or to private airstrips.
She says other lodges in the area did not flood and their guests should be able to get out by road on Friday after some temporary road repairs were completed.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
Officials have closed the only road that goes into Denali National Park and Preserve at the Eielson Visitor Center because of flooding and rock falls, marooning dozens of guests and employees.
Overnight rains turned small streams into raging torrents Thursday morning, park spokeswoman Kris Fister said in a release. Flooding in the Kantishna area, near the end of the 92-mile road, prompted the road closure near Wonder Lake.
Then later Thursday, the road was closed at the Eielson Visitor Center because of falling rock at nearby Eielson Bluffs. The center is located at Mile 66, or about two-thirds of the way into the park.
Some guests and employees at four private lodges in Kantishna and more than 12 park employees, were marooned at the western end of the park road, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://is.gd/jZwMnC).
Fister said everyone is safe and accounted for.
The Kantishna air strip is largely under water. Visitors will be taken out by helicopter if the road remains impassable.
About 60 guests at the Denali Backcountry Lodge on Moose Creek were evacuated Thursday after a foot of water got inside. They were taken by bus to Skyline Lodge.
"Everybody is in good spirits," Matt Unterberger, operations manager at Skyline Lodge, told the newspaper. "Everybody is patiently waiting for the road to get repaired."
Fister said it wasn't immediately clear how long the road would be closed, and park service personnel were assessing the damage.
She said road crews would first attempt to repair the road in the Wonder Lake area.
People camping at the Wonder Lake Campground were able to leave on a bus that was allowed in Thursday afternoon. Fister said some campers chose to remain at the campground on higher ground where there is no danger of flooding.
More than 3 inches of rain have fallen in the 6 million acre park, located between Anchorage and Fairbanks, on Wednesday and Thursday.
Wonder Lake recorded 2.91 inches overnight.
"That's a lot of rain in that part of the world," National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Thoman told the News-Miner. "That's really extreme."
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