August 23, 1967


Release Date: August 23, 1967
From a summer academic community of some 700 students, faculty and staff to an evacuation city of more than 6,500 persons.

That, in essence, is what the University of Alaska became during the height of the flood that ravaged Fairbanks last week.

The sudden influx of flood victims to the university campus, situated on high ground above the swollen Chena River, triggered a mammoth evacuation center operation that jumped into high gear in less than a day.

The story of this birth of a "city" is a story of many people doing, as one observer put it, "what they automatically knew they had to do."

Their task was to organize and administer an evacuation center that would provide housing, food, clothing and health facilities for almost half of the population of Fairbanks.

The evacuation machinery got into gear early Monday, August 14, when Alfred George, the university's Civil Defense coordinator, notified Fairbanks CD headquarters that 300 beds were available on campus.
At the time, the signs of a major flood disaster were not clearly evident and Fairbanks CD held the university space., so to speak, in reserve.

At 10 p.m., however, when it was apparent that the Chena was routing hundreds from their homes, the reserve was brought into the front lines and a stream of flood victims to the campus began.

As the flood worsened, Dr. William R. Wood, UA president, announced that the university would welcome all persons seeking relief. The stream became a torrent.

At first they arrived by car, by pickup truck, by camper --- by about any means that had wheels.
When flood waters severed roads and main arteries, a massive helicopter rescue operation, manned by Air Force and civilian pilots, lifted refugees off rooftops and shrinking "islands" to the campus.
Dozens also began to arrive by flat-bottom river boats, by canoes, by outboard cruisers.

Meanwhile, the university's housing office quickly became a port of entry for the evacuees.
Flood victims were given blankets and directed to rooms in the university's eight dormitories. Coordinating the housing effort were Dr. Lewis Haines, head of student affairs, David Mangusso, head of housing, and Clarence Beers, purchasing agent.

As dormitory space ran out, evacuees were directed to classrooms, to building lounges, to recreation rooms, to the Patty Building Gymnasium and, ultimately, to just about any building or room where a person could put a blanket or a sleeping bag.

Faculty and staff living on campus opened their homes to the victims and household populations of 5 to 20 persons quickly became the status quo.
When supplies of bedding started to run out, the military rushed blankets and sleeping bags to the campus.

On the food front, personnel in the Commons cafeteria started preparing to serve to what would amount to an army of evacuees. That "army" was to consume 14,000 meals in one day later in the week --- compared to an average of 3,000 meals during a regular school day.

University Comptroller Harold Byrd coordinated the food supply machinery, working closely with Bob Mathison, manager of Hi Continental, the food concessionaire.

During succeeding days, the cafeteria received donations of undamaged foodstuffs from flooded-out groceries in the College and Fairbanks areas.

Fresh dairy products and vegetables were brought in by air to International Airport and transported by Air Force high-wheeled trucks over flooded highways to the campus.

C-rations, the military's basic survival foodstuff, supplemented menus. The cafeceria's regular staff of 75 persons was more than doubled with volunteers.

The Commons served not only as a cafeteria for campus dwellers and evacuees but as a food distribution point for residents on high ground in the surrounding area.
With the food and housing machinery running smoothly, the university turned to other key phases of operating a "city".

The first floor lounge ofWickersham Hall, a girl's dormitory, was converted into an infirmary. Volunteer registered nurses, themselves flood evacuees, manned the ward.

The campus dispensary was staffed with regular and volunteer medical personnel.
An outdoor "kennel" was set up bv Joseph Moisan, Student Activities director, near the Patty Building for nearly 100 dogs running loose on campus. A veterinarian volunteered his services.

A recreation program for youngsters was organized in the gymnasium and a regular schedule of movies was announced for the Duckering Building Auditorium.

A mimeographed daily newspaper with morning and afternoon editions began publication. The paper was called The High Water News, which --- as flood waters dropped --- became The (Lower) High Water News.

To inform flood victims of rehabilitation procedures for damaged property and goods, the Division of Statewide Services posted printed instructions concerning repairs.

Arthur Buswell, dean of the division, said the instructions had been prepared for tidal wave victims of the 1964 Anchorage earthquake and that 200 copies had been left over. The division began printing additional sets of instructions for distribution throughout the area.

In communications, citizen band radio operators manned sets linking key operations of the evacuation city after campus phones went dead. Direct communication to other Alaskan points and to the Lower 48 was established by utilizing the Geophysical Institute's earthquake detection network, which was linked with the Alaska communications System.

The university's FM radio station, KUAC, became a message center and early in the flood, served as a communications link with KFAR--- relaying emergency communications.

The offices of the Polar Star, the student newspaper, were made available to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The News-Miner, unable to publish because its plant had flood damage, used the Polar Star equipment to prepare for publication after flood waters dropped.

An evacuation of flood victims from the campus to the airport for refugee flights to Anchorage got underway with the Air Force coordinating the evacuation.

Lights were placed alongside the helicopter landing area, just east of the Bunnell Building, for night operations. At times, as many as four helicopters were on the field.

And so it went---at first hour by hour and then day bv day. A university had become a city and a flooded community was getting ready to bounce back.