ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaskan teacher couple needed some good news after they lost nearly everything they owned when their home collapsed into a glacial flood-swollen river and their cat went missing.
Elizabeth Wilkins was hopeful that if any animal would survive the house’s fall into the Mendenhall River on Aug. 5, it would be Leo, the couple’s hardy, big-eyed black and white cat who doesn’t seem to be afraid of even bears.
“I knew he was very smart, so I was very confident that he would escape and be okay somewhere,” she said.
Hope bore fruit 26 days after the flood, when Tonya Mead posted a photo of Leo on the Juneau Collective Community Facebook account. Wilkins knew immediately that he was Leo, the “Covid kitten” they rescued in 2020. She hurriedly went to meet Mead.
“I started walking down the street calling him, and he just ran out and was like, ‘Oh, hi. Here I am,’ you know like, ‘Where have you been?'” she said.
The river’s rise was due to a large release of water from the Suicide Basin, a basin next to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, which eroded the riverbank.
Wilkens and her partner, Tom Schwartz, had moved into the house shortly before the flood occurred, but at the time of the flood they were traveling in Bend, Oregon.
Their friends called them and sent them videos, telling them that their house was in danger of being washed away.
In the end, several houses were destroyed or partially destroyed, and others were declared ruins or flooded. None of the destruction was as famous as that of the house rented by Wilkins and Schwartz, whose video of the collapse into the river went viral.
The couple returned to Juneau three days later to see where they were going to live and look for Leo.
They went back to where the house used to be, called out Leo’s name, and left him food in the chicken coop.
By then it seemed like everyone in Juneau was looking for the cat. There have been many sightings of Leo, but Wilkins said it seems there are just a lot of homeless black and white cats in Juneau.
When he appeared, he appeared to be in good health.
“Leo was a little thinner, but other than that he was completely fine,” Wilkins said. “He ate four cans of tuna and went out to kill a mouse. I guess that’s how he survived.”
He commented that it is amazing to have Leo back, although he is currently staying with a friend while the couple finds another place to live.
“It’s a great joy because everyone in his community was looking for him, and it’s nice to receive some good news,” he said.
And just like Leo, some of their belongings are coming back to them, just not in as good a condition as the cat.
“People have been finding things, like clothes and photos of us that were in 4 feet of mud in someone’s yard downstream,” he said.