Flooding and rockfall forced the closure of the road into Denali National Park and Preserve past the Eielson Visitor Center Thursday, marooning more than 100 people, officials said.
One hundred-plus people at the Denali Backcountry Lodge were evacuated to higher ground Thursday morning after “water began encroaching into buildings,” said Kris Fister, park spokesperson. No injuries had been reported Thursday evening as two helicopters evacuated people.
Streams became “raging torrents” overnight along and across Denali Park Road after a torrential downpour, Fister said. At 4:30 a.m. Thursday, the National Park Service closed the park road beyond Wonder Lake because of flooding.
By 8:45 a.m., park managers had closed the road past the Eielson Visitor Center following “significant rockfall” at the Eielson Bluffs, which is about one to two miles west of the visitor center, Fister said. Much of the Kantishna airstrip was underwater Thursday and not usable by fixed-wing aircraft.
Officials said they would first airlift four stranded climbers on the south side of the McKinley River, which they’d been trying to get across for a few days. The climbers had been in contact with park officials, Fister said.
“They’re not desperate, but they’re out of food at this point,” she said Thursday evening.
After helping the climbers, park officials would assist a stranded employee and then lodge guests, Fister said.
Fister said she was glad no one was in immediate danger, but realized guests probably didn’t want to be stuck at a lodge.
“We’re thankful at this point that everyone is safe,” she said. “But their Alaskan adventure is probably getting a little old at this point.”
Other guests and employees may also have to be evacuated, Fister said, and park officials hoped to have everyone who was displaced out by midnight.