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.

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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

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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

ABOUT KARRIE PAVISH ANDERSON
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