- Associated Press - Friday, July 11, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Water crept up on homes and closed roads and popular hiking trails Friday, as residents braced for possible record flooding after the release of water from a glacially dammed lake.

The old record of 11.18 feet on Mendenhall Lake, set in 1995, was broken by Friday afternoon, as the lake water level reached 11.8 feet, then began to drop slightly, the National Weather Service said.

Authorities have been monitoring the lake and Mendenhall River to see when they would crest following the water release. The Weather Service said the river level also dropped slightly by late Friday afternoon. The highest river reading Friday was 13.5 feet, just under the record level of 13.8 feet.

The river roared, churning up whitewater and attracting curious onlookers, as water covered side roads and residents watched water lap into their yards.

By late afternoon, a few low-lying homes on View Drive had water in their garages or basements, and large trees were reported floating down the river. A construction crew working on a bridge was doing its best to haul them out, Laurie Sica, clerk for the city and borough of Juneau, said by email.

Sue Arthur had stashed a canoe near the top of View Drive, where she lives, in case the road became impassable. She and two friends piled into the vessel, along with her dog, to get past a submerged section of road and check on her house.

Forecasters warned that several feet of water were possible in low-lying areas, with a flood warning in effect through Saturday night. View Drive and several roads along the river corridor were closed Friday, with people asked to stay away.

On Friday morning, sandbags filled by residents lined the foundations of houses and the fronts of garages. Water slowly began to fill the yard and driveway of one house, where a knock on the door went unanswered.

Tom Mattice, emergency programs manager for the city and borough of Juneau, said many residents along View Drive planned to spend time away from their homes until the flooding subsided.

Lynn Reinwand and her husband planned to stick around. She said Friday morning that the water-level warning seemed close to where it was in 2011 during a similar glacial outburst known as a jokulhlaup (YOH’-kuh-lup). Reinwand said her biggest concern was losing power; it was, in fact, shut off to View Drive later in the day, according to the city. She joked that if all else failed, they had kayaks and a canoe to float on.

Meteorologist Robert Tschantz said residents along the entire stretch of the river should be vigilant, a message echoed by Mattice.

Water covered part of Montana Creek Road, prompting its partial closure. That road leads to the West Glacier trail and is a popular put-in for kayaks and canoes on the lake. Ed Grossman, with the U.S. Forest Service, said campers were moved out of the Mendenhall Lake campground Thursday night. The lake was also off-limits to watercraft, according to a U.S. Forest Service notification.

Several other trails, including the Nugget Falls trail, a favorite for cruise ship passengers bused to Mendenhall Glacier, also were closed. Typically, visitors can walk along the beach to get near the falls. On Friday, the water just tumbled into the lake, with the beach area submerged. Tourists still took in the sights, snapping pictures of the bloated lake.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor center director John Neary said a bear was seen swimming in the recreation area Friday.

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