Wild fires over the previous year burned away ground cover along the river banks, and unusually high rainfall in July and August sent runoff from higher elevations into the Chena & Tanana Rivers, turning them into rushing torrents.
The Chena River went over flood stage on August 14, and Fairbanks would suffer its largest natural disaster that August of 1967. By the end of the day on the 14th, the majority of Fairbanks and Fort Wainwright would be under water.
Boats and helicopters would become the main mode of transportation, as people fled to higher ground. Over 7000 people evacuated to the University of Alaska campus, which sits high on a hill. I met a woman several years ago at the post office who gave me a hug after seeing my old Land Rover. I was only slightly taken aback, then she explained that her family had been driven up to the university campus during “The Great Flood” in a truck just like mine. She said the driver would stop when he spotted people stranded, set the hand throttle to keep the water from running up the exhaust pipe, then load them into his truck and hauled them all up to UAF. I would love to know who owned that Series Rover back then.
This is my favorite photo from the Great Flood. I heard that the owner of this car had been ridiculed pretty hard for owning an amphibious car so far inland. Then the Chena overran its banks, and the car became a bit of a folk hero.
Update 11-6-14: I’ve been told that the owner of the amphibious car was Fletcher Howard Alexander, who owned A&B Auto Sales in Fairbanks. That is just Classic Fairbanks in action.
Four people were killed in the flood waters, and damage ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars. It was also the death knell of Creamer’s Dairy, the last in-town farm, as the flood drove it into bankruptcy.
Samson Hardware remained open, selling pumps and everything else with water running through the store. The flood waters damaged the historic 1906, wooden building, forcing major repairs to shore up the walls with concrete. The State used these vital repairs of the building to deny the old store historic status years later and took the land using eminent domain for an unnecessary second bridge across the Chena. “State sanctioned theft, is still theft.” — My soap box moment for the day.
All photos courtesy of the University of Alaska Archives, except the amphibian car, which comes courtesy of the Fountainhead Auto Museum.