Alaska life

Karrie Pavish Anderson’s Story of Surviving the Yukon River Flood

Karrie Pavish Anderson. Courtesy photo
Karrie Pavish Anderson. Courtesy photo

I started following Karrie Pavish Anderson on Twitter about a year ago. Karrie lives in Galena, Alaska and is a singer songwriter. Along with many other Alaskans and the world, I saw the devastation of the flood in Galena and other villages caused by an ice jam on the Yukon River during spring break up this year. I reached out to Karrie recently to ask her how she and her family are doing. She shared her story below.


Karrie’s Story of Surviving the Yukon River Flood
My sister and I left Galena about four days before the flood. We, along with other Galena Young Life volunteers, had gone to Wasilla for the Galena Young Life fundraising banquet. Our husbands remained home, and two of my sister’s children were also still in Galena. I remember standing on the bank of Sheep Creek as it broke that weekend, wishing I could be with my husband and our dog watching the Yukon break. Break-up is one of my favorite times of year since I moved to Galena. The power of the Yukon is immense; it shakes the ground and carves land from its banks. So I called my husband, and he said it looked like things would flood, as was predicted with the late break up. At that point, there was only a couple feet of water. I saw neighbors and students posting photos on Facebook of kids in canoes at the playground.

Crow Creek trucks submerged in Galena. Photo by Jason Kopp
Crow Creek trucks submerged in Galena. Photo by Jason Kopp

But the next day, we received entirely different reports from family and friends. My sister Kim received a call from her sister-in-law who was at the Galena airport with other young mothers, children and babies. Elders had already been evacuated by the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), and mothers were told to boat with their children to the airport. But when they arrived, they were told there were no planes for them.  The sister-in-law, who is usually very level headed, spoke to my sister frantically, saying she could see the ice up near the dike. She was afraid the dike would break and they would all perish. She told Kim to please get pilots to fly them all out.

My sister’s phone battery was nearly dead. She had time for one phone call. She didn’t have battery to call all the missionary pilots she knew, so she called one of our Young Life volunteers and gave her instructions. When Kim got back, she and I started a mini command center from our Dad’s place just north of Willow.  YL volunteer Adrian Johnson connected with a number of pilots who immediately prepared to evacuate Galena residents when our mayor gave the word.

Kim’s daughter Kaylin, a sophomore at Alaska Christian College, had a cell that was still working in Galena. She texted us with updates, telling us how high the water was on our street and such. Then she said her Dad and neighbor Ross Tulloch were taking her and the neighborhood children via boat to be evacuated.  By then, Kaylin told us water had surged around five feet in 30 minutes. I asked Kaylin to take a few photos during their trek, as long as she had enough battery for emergencies.

Daniel Kopp looks out their living room window to see none of the ground, just the flood waters rising. Photo by Kaylin Kopp
Daniel Kopp looks out their living room window to see none of the ground, just the flood waters rising. Photo by Kaylin Kopp

I spent about 18 hours per day working on Facebook and email in the early days of the flood, and my sister was on the phone that amount of time. People asked me on FB how they could help, so I suggested to Kim that we needed to start a fund where people could give money that would be used 100% on the ground in Galena. We started Galena Rebuilders with Chris Kopp, the pastor of Galena Bible Church. We networked all day with politicians, pastors, organizations, cell providers and pilots. We had little sleep. By then, over 200 were evacuated by missionary pilots, one plane load by the Galena City School District, and twelve hours later, another 32 people by the State. Our husbands stayed in Galena, as did most of our neighbors out at Crow Creek.

Patrick Anderson (Karrie's husband) took this photo from the upstairs of his home where he stayed until flood waters receded. Boats were in flood waters outside of his home.
Patrick Anderson (Karrie’s husband) took this photo from the upstairs of his home where he stayed until flood waters receded. Boats were in flood waters outside of his home.

When I read the final evacuation list and saw our husbands’ names were missing, I was in shock. It seemed like something they would do, but I had hoped they would come out away from the danger. Then I was angry. What did my husband expect to do against over six feet of water that was on our property? Then fear gripped me, until I remembered that our husbands were resourceful and handy – they would be fine as long as they kept their heads. Kim and I are gifted in networking, so it was providential that we were out before the flood. It would have been impossible for us to do all we did to get the pilots rolling and funds started if we’d been in Galena. So the thought that we were all where our gifts served best gave me some peace.

When Kaylin and her little brother got to Willow, we hugged. We were so relieved they were safe and with us! I asked her brother Daniel to tell us his evacuation story. He spent about 45 seconds telling about the actual evacuation, but then he told us about when they landed in Fairbanks. Fairbanks Pastor J.R. Stepp picked them up and took them to shelter. Daniel said he fell asleep, but when he awoke, there was orange juice. He kept telling us about the orange juice and how much there was… about how much he drank… about how good it tasted….he just kept on drinking! I had to laugh that most of his story was consumed with his orange juice consumption. But then Kaylin remarked that they didn’t even realize how thirsty they were – it had been over 15 hours since they had any fluids.

Then Kaylin took out her phone to show us photos of her evacuation. She told us that it took hours to get from Crow Creek to the airport because it was difficult to find safe passage in their boat. Some areas had full river current where they had to dodge ice bergs with their boat. Other snow machine paths still had some shallow areas that prevented the boat from continuing. She showed us photos of the water being up to the bottom of a stop sign. My sister and I were glad we didn’t know the harrowing dangers the kids faced as they were evacuated. All we knew is that they got out!

[Here is a video Kaylin made about her flood experience. It’s the video Kim showed at the churches when she was spreading awareness & doing fund raising at the churches.  We also showed it to the volunteers who came to Galena during my dinner mini-concerts so they could see what it was like.]

My husband, though without power like the rest of Galena, was able to rig a generator and used it for a few minutes each night to send me an email update since his phone service didn’t work. Kim’s husband would boat next to the lower level of our house, tie his boat there and sit in the boat to use our internet during those minutes at night. That was our life line to them. Evacuated neighbors would Facebook me to have me ask the husbands to check on chickens or belongings, or to use up frozen food that would soon be rotten if not eaten.

It was a blessing that our neighbors all stuck together. They checked up on each other as the waters subsided. Our neighborhood was cut off from the rest of Galena, so it made me feel good to know they had each other.

Kim and I continued working to get needed supplies to Galena via missionary pilots. It was exhausting. We would forget to eat, we were so busy at our little command center. I created promotional material to get the word out about the flood and how people could help. These were web-based and on cardstock. I booked some benefit concerts and raised thousands of dollars for Galena Rebuilders through those. Kim already planned to speak at churches about Galena Young Life, so she spoke about the flood at those places and handed out the postcards we made.

We started organizing volunteers. Within 10 days of the flood surge, the first volunteer from Galena Rebuilders flew from Anchorage to help. That volunteer, Scott Smith, mobilized more volunteers from Anchorage, and started “Pallets with a Purpose” so that people in southcentral Alaska could donate supplies specifically needed by our volunteer crews in Galena. A volunteer group from Pineville, Louisiana was the first work crew that came through Galena Rebuilders. By the time I returned, volunteers were flooding Galena. Through Galena Rebuilders, we brought nearly 300 volunteers to Galena to partner with us in clean-up and rebuilding. At Galena Bible Church, we fed and housed volunteers for much of the time, until there was room at other locations. When I wasn’t cleaning up at my place, I gave mini concerts for the volunteers at least once per week during their dinner time to keep morale high.

[Check out more photos and updates on Galena Rebuilders Facebook page.]

It was difficult to go through all our belongings ruined by the flood. But we were so thankful to get our house ready for winter. We just got our Toyostove in October, and thankfully, we had warm temperatures for that time of year. During the summer, my husband labored so many hours to get the siding and insulation taken care of. During the winter, he will finish up the last indoor insulation and drywall. We don’t have a couch anymore, but volunteers already put our flooring in for us. I don’t have my music scores or some of my Once Blind inventory, but we do have working appliances now. Our vehicles were completely submerged, so though I don’t have my little truck anymore, I do have a Buick LaSabre that was *given* to me. I picked it up in Fairbanks and paid for it to be barged here. It’s in great shape, and, importantly, the heater works! My husband, neighbor and I worked to get our fuel tank up on its new stand, and we now have heating fuel running.

Since I needed to be home to help with clean-up, I couldn’t tour, which is my sole income for the summer. So Inland Barge hired me to be their Galena agent. That way I could work on the house but still get a little income. The barge always came in so full of rebuilding supplies for the city and for residents. The barge arrival was even more of a highlight than usual, because it meant that we were that much closer to getting more people in their homes for the winter.

Now that the insane pace has slowed due to the onset of winter, I’m feeling more of the grief of loss, not just of belongings, but of time. Very few Galena residents can say they were able to keep their summer plans. Very few of us got to pick berries, fish and hunt as much as usual. I didn’t get to continue touring, so that meant loss of income, loss of experience and loss of building my music business. I didn’t get to spend much time with my husband and our puppy, or sit in the sun on the riverbank. I feel robbed. And I’m among the luckier in Galena. All of our neighbors at Crow Creek are in their homes, ready enough for winter. But other community members will be wintering in Fairbanks, some separated from their families. It’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster – feelings of immense gratitude and feelings of loss. I’m still amazed that not one resident perished in this massive diversion of the Yukon into our town. We have so much to be thankful for.

I was so blessed to see first-hand how people band together for a common goal. Many people from all over the state and all over the country volunteered to help us rebuild. Fairbanks and Anchorage residents and churches were superstars for us. They had many raffles, they housed displaced families and fed them, they sent volunteers. There are so many beautiful stories that have come from this awful disaster. We are blessed.

I’m proud of the people of Galena – we are a hearty folk and we are doing our best to move forward.

-Karrie Pavish Anderson


Thank you to Karrie and her sister for working so hard in Galena. I have some relatives who are stuck in Fairbanks and other places for the winter. I hope they are able to rebuild during the upcoming summer construction season. Thank you to the 1,000s of Alaskans, state, federal and tribal organizations who have stepped up to help Galena and other communities.

Learn more about Karrie below. I’ll be doing a follow-up post on Karrie and her current music projects.

Karrie Pavish Anderson is drumming at Car Wash Lake. Courtesy photo
Karrie Pavish Anderson is drumming at Car Wash Lake. Courtesy photo

Karrie Pavish Anderson was born and raised in Anchorage, AK. Her parents are Steve and Star Pavish, and her grandparents are Stan and LaVerne Pavish of Walla Walla, WA and Lonnie Blevins of Vashon, WA. Karrie has one older sister who lives with her family in Galena, and a younger brother who lives in California.

Karrie’s parents worked hard to give their children a good life. Karrie says, “They taught us about respect, serving others, and about the importance of faith, good work ethic. They also connected us with multiple caring adults who invested in our lives.” Karrie grew up eating moose, caribou, rabbit and ptarmigan, and vegetables and berries from the garden.

Karrie used to sit and wait with Mom while her sister had her piano lessons. The more she listened, the more she wanted lessons. She began lessons when she was five years old and continued them throughout college. When she can, Karrie still takes in a piano lesson or two with composer pianist Vardan Ovsepian in Los Angeles. In high school, she started accompanying church singers on the piano, and led church music. She still does this today.

According to Karrie’s mother, when she was a baby, she started singing after her mother clicked her into the car seat. Since then, her parents got her involved in singing at church, in the Anchorage Girls’ Choir (now the Alaska Children’s Choir), school choirs and playing in the Arctic Spirit Handbell Choir.  Some of those were audition-based, others were open to everyone.

As a second grader, Karrie wanted to grow up to be a teacher, a missionary or a performer. She has done all three.

Find out more about Karrie online:
Website  |  Musician bio  |   More of her story
Facebook Page  |  YouTube  |  Twitter  |  Pinterest
Twice as Nice album online and on iTunes

Alaska life, Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Molissa Bifelt – Rebuilding After the Yukon River Flood

Debris from flooding is gathered for dumping. Photo by Molissa Bifelt
Debris from flooding is gathered for dumping. Photo by Molissa Bifelt

Molissa Bifelt and her partner, David Wightman, live in Galena, which flooded severely in late May. Molissa has taught math in Galena for the past seven years for high school students at the Sidney Huntington School students and Galena Interior Learning Academy (GILA). David is a vocational teacher with carpentry skills. Molissa, David, and David’s son, Koby, were on vacation when Galena flooded.

Read a June 23 story by the Alaska Dispatch: A month after devastating flood, Galena races to rebuild.

On May 27, they kept track of the water levels of the Yukon River from status updates and pictures from friends on Facebook. Molissa said, “I was sitting in the airport in Phoenix praying for the water to recede as I was waiting for my flight.” Although they were out of harms way while Galena flooded, they worried about their black lab, named Coal.

Evan Buchanan, a high school student, was taking care of Coal. Evan canoed to the to Molissa’s house to rescue Coal. Before Evan was evacuated from Galena, he dropped off Coal to the Sidney Huntington School. Many woman, elders and children were evacuated as the town flooded. Molissa and David asked a friend to get Coal to make sure he was fed and cared for.

“Sitting in Fairbanks waiting to hear about our house and town was excruciating. We weren’t able to sleep well thinking about all the ‘what ifs’. We were concerned about the dike breaching and the welfare of our friends that remained behind.” – Molissa Bifelt

Molissa and David's garage flooded. Photo by Molissa Bifelt
Molissa and David’s garage flooded. Photo by Molissa Bifelt

As you may have read, Galena sustained damages/loss of about 90% of its homes and buildings. According to Molissa, there are varying degrees of damage to homes in Galena. She said, “Some people’s homes are completely destroyed or unlivable, while others only got water in their floor insulation.” Molissa and David’s home and separate garage sustained water damage, but there home is structurally sound to be repaired.

David and another teacher were able to return to Galena once waters from the Yukon River receded on June 1st. They worked together to tear out the insulation in the floors, then focused on clearing out the first floor of the homes to get to the wall insulation. In both homes, they had to remove everything on the first floor to dry the place out properly.

Molissa returned to Galena on June 5th to help with the work in their home. Their house is just a shell right now. According to Molissa, the people in Galena are keeping their hopes up so far. She says, “We have a ton of hard workers in this town that are doing everything in their power to get their homes livable and to also focus on the rebuilding of the public facilities. We know as a community that we need to get the infrastructure back up so our families can return for the school year and the upcoming winter.”

Molissa and David's home in Galena. Photo by Molissa Bifelt
Molissa and David’s home in Galena. Photo by Molissa Bifelt

Molissa and David are working hard to rebuild their home by the end of August. They have already purchased material and are currently mudding and taping the house. Once that is complete, they will repaint the rooms. After that, they will repair the flooring, electrical, and finally plumbing. Molissa is grateful that David is a skilled carpenter who has built three homes and two garages in Galena. He knows what he is doing and is capable of getting their house winter ready and livable before school starts.

Molissa noted that their situation is much different than most people in Galena, because they have the resources and skills to rebuild on our own. According to Molissa, there are a lot of families here who need help with the rebuilding process. Molissa says, “There is a sense of urgency for the local residents because we know that the building season is so short and it is hard to get materials into Galena in a timely fashion.” She also says the expense of getting materials in is also very daunting.

Molissa is a teacher who is still under contract, so is going to teach this winter. The community is working to repair Sidney Huntington School, which got water in the insulation and its utilidor was heavily damaged. Located on the base, GILA is fully functional and is currently serving the community of displaced residents and workers. If the Sidney Huntington School is not repaired before school starts, then classes will be relocated to GILA for the winter. Molissa is uncertain of what the school year will look like at this point. The administrators, superintendent and school board are working diligently toward a plan for the school year.

Molissa is impressed with the amount of love and pride she has seen in the community of Galena. She has seen neighbors looking out for each other and are doing their best to salvage their way of life and homes. Molissa says, “We are making the best of this terrible situation and trying to go about this rebuilding process with smiles on our faces and with good humor. There is still a lot to be thankful for despite the situation and severity of the flood damage.”

The Catholic Church was heavily damaged, but they are still carrying on Sunday service at the GILA auditorium. The Bible Church is also carrying on regular service at their church. Molissa says, “It’s nice to know that we are all praying for the same thing, the strength and ability to rebuild our town.”

Molissa and her family in Arizona. Courtesy photo
Molissa and her family in Arizona. Courtesy photo

Molissa and David consider themselves lucky to be at home and working diligently to repair their home. Molissa knows how worried residents are about their homes and most are still displaced to Fairbanks, Anchorage and other places. Molissa says, “We are a family and youth orientated town and it will be nice to get our kids back to Galena. Galena seems so different without our children.” Molissa wants to reassure displaced residents that they are doing their best to get things back together for their return. She is also concerned about elders and families that have no homes. Molissa is looking forward to the first Galena get together as residents return. Koby, who is visiting family, is set to return in early September. They are working hard to have their home fully repaired by then.

Even seeing and hearing stories from the flood, it is hard for me to imagine what the homeowners and residents are going through right now. I am impressed see how Alaskans and others across the US are pulling together to support the community of Galena. Despite the stresses of rebuilding, Molissa and David are fishing when they can and trying to enjoy their summer.

There are still ways to support the Yukon River flood relief efforts.

Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Yukon River Flood – A Story of Survival

Imagine waking up to rising waters outside of your home. You hear water swooshing and ice crunching. You have little time to get your family and one small bag together. As you get ready to leave your home, you see water coming into your yard. That is what many people and families faced in Galena in the flood.

Kimberly Pilot, her toddler, and her mother-in-law, Ragine Pilot, were evacuated to Anchorage from Galena. Kim’s husband, William, was evacuated the next day. The woman and children and elders were evacuated first. Kim and William’s son, Deston, was visiting relatives at the time of the flood, so he was thankfully safe at that time. Kim is my second cousin.

The Pilot family are temporarily staying in Eagle River. Left-right: Ragine, Laina, Kimberly and William. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
The Pilot family are temporarily staying in Eagle River. Left-right: Ragine, Laina, Kimberly and William. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Here is Kimberly’s story in her own words.


I am in Eagle River at my husband’s aunt’s home with Mom Ragine, William and Madelaina. Mom, Laina and I were fortunate to get out that night it flooded. I’m so grateful and relieved that we appear to have made it through with no loss of life. That’s nothing less than a miracle for what I witnessed that day.

As someone posted on Facebook, that was Memorial Day. We were concerned with the minor flooding, but that day was just a normal day. I was doing laundry and I had even cleaned up and swept in our bedroom that day. I find it ironic now, considering Mom’s hardwood floors are now destroyed. But we weren’t worried at all. I was watching Mom, because I knew if she’s not panicking I don’t have to.

Then she calmly told me early that afternoon to pack an overnight bag for me and Laina just in case. As I was doing that, we heard that the new road washed out. This was after 3 p.m. and I knew then that it was a situation where no matter what happened I couldn’t stay there with a toddler. I knew that once we left the house, we weren’t coming back for the foreseeable future. Now there is a loud roaring sound I can here as I stand on my porch. My husband informed me that was the sound of the Yukon River filling up the lake behind the house.

Things got serious real fast. By the time I walked out the door and off my porch there was a foot of water to wade through in our yard. I have two overnight type bags that I’ve packed as if I may not have any other supplies for the next two days, because I knew I couldn’t afford to be in a situation with Madelaina stranded. I distributed the weight evenly between the bags and made sure that I could carry everything I had with me by myself if I needed to. Thank God I did that, because that’s precisely what ended up happening.

We drive over to Len’s house across from the Clinic where (by this time there were many small boats) they are evacuating women and children to we don’t even know where, for we don’t know how long. Laina cried the whole boat ride, that boat was tiny and that ride is something I never again in my life want to experience.

The Yukon River is pouring into the community and there are spots where that current was so strong and unpredictable, I was terrified then, honestly. I knew that there was by this time a very fine line between all of us (60 women and children) getting out with our lives and the chance that we would not be so lucky. I was honestly prepared to, well, I actually made peace with my life and my God on that boat ride because I knew if I went in the water at all I wasn’t coming back out.

The current was just so fast and powerful, shook us around like a cork in the ocean. I didn’t have on a life jacket. They gave me one, but I’m standing in a boat five feet wide holding a toddler. How can I have free hands to put it on? Two other small kids were in the boat as well.

This is hard to type now. I was very aware that the life of my child was in my own hands now. The decisions I was making were life and death. She had on a life jacket. We had just bought her one and her Dad pulled it out of its packaging and put it on her as we left the house. The boat ride was only minutes long, but seemed an eternity when you are looking at the Yukon River ice which is at eye level.

It was chaotic, and things were happening so fast. Any person at any point could have fallen in the flood water and they would be swept away before anyone even noticed. So I knew that if it came down to it, my only concern would be ensuring Laina’s safety, and I knew nothing beyond that would even be possible.

“I wasn’t afraid, mind you. I was resolute. You can’t fight the Yukon River, it’s going to do what it wants, and I knew I just had to pray that it could take me, but not my daughter.”

It was unreal to be literally thrown into a tin can on the mighty Yukon with my husband handing my daughter to me along with everything we own now in the world, and I didn’t know when I would see him again. I wanted to cry, believe me, but I knew that wouldn’t benefit Laina so I just kept planning our next steps.

Landing was just the beginning of what we mothers and children were going to face. We were hastily loaded into a bus, it was 80 degrees out and babies were crying. They brought us out onto the tarmac of the airport and just unloaded us and took off. We were there outside for I don’t how long. But it was long enough for our babies to be distressed and overheated. I thought of everything to pack, but I forgot one crucial thing, water. We were trying to find water to make bottles for a baby who never drank formula before because he was breast fed. The mom had no breast milk to feed him. We were so dehydrated. That mistake, honestly, could have been fatal.

It was scary being with this group because we are just women with babies. I only have one, but there was one with two and she was 7 months pregnant. One mom had five of her children and they couldn’t evacuate her with the bag she packed. So she had a toddler and no supplies. I gave her pampers and other things. No one knows what’s going on, and I’m praying so hard for these babies, and for the pregnant women. I knew there could easily be a medical issue that we would have no way to seek help for. They say they are putting us on a plane, then a few hours later they inform us no plane is coming and we are to evacuate to base for the night. Then we hear planes are coming later. It was insane.

You have no idea the sense of relief I felt when we all boarded the plane at midnight and got in the air without any loss of life. Now I only had to worry about all the people staying behind because water was rising so fast. We needed a miracle for every person in Galena to survive this. I knew at any point an elder could have a heart attack in front of us and we would be helpless.

I was reunited with Mom at the dorms after many hours, they separated us again and we met up again. Babies are dog-tired. Moms have no place to change their baby’s diapers. One mom put her baby on a snow machine seat that was on the side of the tarmac to change her. One mom layed her baby down on a blanket on the ground to change him.

Moms were crying at many points as many had seen their homes inundated, some homes were submerged three feet that they witnessed. Some didn’t have a chance to pack a single thing from their home before they had to flee.

I kept hearing in my head “How terrible it will be in those days for nursing mothers and pregnant women.” From Revelation, I think. Indeed it did seem like the whole world was coming to an end. At least the town of Galena, Alaska. It’s gone as we knew it. There is no there there.

I feel better having typed this, because I feel like its off my chest now, and not weighing me down. It’s hard because many times during the day I will get a flashback of the sound of the water rushing in and of teetering in the boat and of wading through water and it, it, well, you can probably imagine.

Leaving William was the hardest part of the day, him trying to kiss his daughter goodbye and reassure her she will be fine. Many women cried separating from their husbands.

William evacuated the next day, he decided to leave just when mom’s house nearly came off its foundation as the river flooded the house. Mom and Dad had said that ‘THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN’, it couldn’t they said. Dad said we were far enough back and high enough to never be in danger even if other parts of Galena may be.

It was surreal witnessing water shooting into the yard and all around us is a flurry of activity, men and women are scrambling parking vehicles, boats on the road which was the highest point. It was hard driving because so many vehicles were along the roads. They cut the power off shortly after 3:00 p.m. I remember, and we left the house at about 5:00 p.m. The word and news we were hearing kept getting worse and worse.

I’m thankful for the safety we all can enjoy now, thanks to God above. It was in His hands, and I knew as I was packing that if I was without Christ, I would never be able to handle this situation. I was so comforted and clear-headed and I knew it was because “I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.” That was my mantra.


Enaa baasee’ to Kim for sharing her story. William went back to Galena to help in the clean-up and recovery efforts. I have faith that Kim, William, Ragine, their family and other Galena residents will be okay and weather through this. However, the whole community needs help to rebuild and it will take a tremendous amount of resources.

Here are a few ways you can help:

Thank you to fellow Alaskans who have wrapped their arms around the Galena community by providing housing, rides, food, clothing, moral support, and more. Thank you also to the people and communities who are taking care of Galena’s dogs and other animals while evacuees are displaced.