As the floodwaters of western Alaska recede, damage assessments begin on hundreds of miles of coastline

The remnants of a massive Pacific typhoon that hit a thousand-mile stretch of western Alaska dissipated Sunday morning, as floodwaters fell and communities assessed the damage from one of the worst storms on record.

“The climax is done,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Lardeo said Sunday. “It’s a weakening system.”

The storm left a trail of debris across the Alaskan coast, with flooding, telecommunications disruption, and damage to buildings and infrastructure, including roads, docks, dams, and village runways.

As of Monday morning, there have been no reports of deaths, serious injuries or missing persons, Lardeo said.

The storm system moved north on Sunday, where it stalled and rapidly weakened in the Chukchi Sea.

Floods in Kotzebue

No additional communities reported damage on Monday, Lardeo said, and the storm was continuing to weaken. The water level north of the Bering Strait was expected to slowly recede over the next day or so, Lardeo said, but much of the floodwater to the south had already receded on Monday morning.

[Alaska Community Foundation creates fund to accept donations for storm-ravaged Western Alaska]

The weather system is what was left of what was once Typhoon Merbok, which formed further east in the Pacific Ocean than where such storms typically appear.

Parts of Kotzebue were flooded late Saturday and into Sunday morning, with residents of some lower parts of the city taking refuge elsewhere overnight. As of Sunday afternoon, there have been no reports of evacuations in Kivalina and Deering and “no other communities in the Northwest Arctic Borough have reported major impacts,” said Tessa Baldwin, Director of Public Safety at the Northwest Arctic Borough Department of Public. Safety.

Floods in Kotzebue

Further south, the water level dropped throughout Sunday in communities at the mouths of the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, Norton Sound and the Seward Peninsula.

“They have passed their climax for this event,” Lardeo said.

Storm areas of western Alaska

As the worst of the wind and floods subsided, the state’s Emergency Operations Center was assessing the damage, collecting reports on damaged infrastructure and property from communities up and down the Bering Sea coast.

According to Governor Mike Dunleavy, five communities are known to be “severely damaged”: Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Nome, Newtok and Golovin.

Hooper Bay western Alaska storm flood
Hooper Bay western Alaska storm flood

“We will move as quickly as possible and focus on the communities that have really suffered damage and that really need the help most,” Dunleavy said. “But all communities will be examined and, wherever help is needed, we will receive it as soon as possible.”

Even communities that have not suffered the worst of the impact are facing major problems in the coming days. Unalakleet, Elim, Hooper Bay and Golovin are facing problems with water. Hundreds of people took refuge at Hooper Bay school over the weekend, including residents of nearby Kotlik, according to public radio station KYUK. Most of the fishing boats in Chevak are missing, KYUK and Alaska Public Media reported.

“There are many impacts across the region. We understand that there is damage to residences, that there is damage to infrastructure in many communities, and that the recovery process will be widespread, “said Jeremy Zidek, spokesman for the State Division for Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

[Whipped by winds from storm, popular Nome restaurant destroyed in a Saturday fire]

Impacts of telecommunications

One of the problems facing state emergency responders is that telecommunications coverage in some communities has been inconsistent throughout Sunday, interrupting due to impact on infrastructure or the loss of local power sources.

“Was communications affected? yes, “said Zidek.” Are there power impacts? Yes. To what degree? This is really a changing and evolving situation. “

GCI, which provides telephone and internet services to many of the affected communities, said its Anchorage office was working with local technicians in western Alaska to monitor system outages.

“Our current ratings indicate that consumer networking services are interested in Chevak, Elim, Golovin, Hooper Bay, Newtok, White Mountain, Shaktoolik, Stebbins, St. George, Unalakleet,” said GCI spokesperson Heather Handyside. “The internet was briefly interrupted, but it was restored in Emonak, Greyling and Kwigillingok.”

[Earlier coverage: Worst storm in years batters Western Alaska coast]

“Some of the consumer outages are likely due to commercial power outages and floods impacting home internet equipment,” he said, adding that as storm conditions continue to diminish, “GCI teams are prioritizing needs. of expedition while organizing resources and equipment “.

Damaged infrastructure

As of Sunday afternoon, state officials said they believe all runways at airports in the region are operational. Several runways were reportedly flooded on Saturday and could not accept planes.

Annette Piscoya, Nome, storm

According to Shannon McCarthy, Department of Transportation spokesperson Shannon McCarthy, crews of heavy equipment operators were able to clear debris from runways across much of the region on Sunday morning. Some communities have seen damage to lights along the airstrips due to the floods, she said.

Melanie Bahnke, head of the regional nonprofit organization based in Nome Kawerak, said information continues to flow in from the 15 Bering Strait communities served in Nome. So far it is believed that three houses have disappeared in Golovin. According to Bahnke, the sanitation route out of Shishmaref used to empty the rubbish and honey buckets “is wiped out”. Other communities reported flooding and residents being evacuated for shelter on Saturday night.

Along the roads outside Nome, people discover their family huts and fishing camps destroyed or torn to pieces. Bahnke said her husband checked their cabin over Cape Nome late Saturday.

“My smokehouse is gone, my addiction is gone. The picnic table and a canoe are gone, “she said. During the night the winds had changed direction and she wasn’t sure if the main structure could make it.” Other people have lost their cabins.

Large sections of the eastern part of Nome’s Front Street have been severed from the asphalt pavement and severely eroded.

Alaska Airlines was able to fly a commercial plane to Nome on Sunday morning. The air service failed to reach Bethel or Kotzebue, according to Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines regional vice president.

Governor Dunleavy issued a state disaster statement on Saturday.

Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, head of the Alaska National Guard, said Sunday that all guards and members of the State Defense Force in the western region have been activated. More air support is directed in western Alaska: three Guard helicopters in Nome and one in Bethel, as well as a C-17 and a C-130, both large military cargo planes, waiting.

“It is essential to have the boots on the ground. So we want to start today, ”Saxe said.

He said the goal is to bring 10 guards to Hooper Bay, where hundreds of meals are provided to the welcoming residents, along with guards sent to Bethel and Nome.

The governor said the state is gathering resources to bring food, water and other essential supplies to affected communities starting on Monday. He reiterated that the “freeze” is fast approaching, expected in western Alaska in a few weeks, which means the recovery process should begin and end quickly.

Bryan Fisher, director of homeland security and emergency management, said state officials, including a state emergency officer, will be deployed in western Alaska on Monday. They will be joined by members of the American Red Cross from the Lower 48 who will fly to the region to begin assessing where food, water and shelter are needed.

Bahnke said he spoke with the congressional delegation on Sunday in hopes of getting a federal disaster declaration.

“The tribes could do it directly with FEMA, but it requires 20% local correspondence, which is simply not possible,” Bahnke said. He hopes the state will submit the request to federal emergency handlers.

Although Dunleavy has not yet called for a federal disaster declaration, the state plans to do so in the next couple of days.

“We will work with them to do the evaluation piece,” Fisher said, “and this is indeed a backstop, provided that the governor’s emergency programs, (which) have been in place since Saturday morning, will essentially provide the money. initial to make this answer “.

“If this is approved by the president, there will be additional financial resources that will be sustained over the long term,” Fisher said.

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