The storm that hits western Alaska causes widespread flooding

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A powerful storm that struck north across the Bering Strait on Saturday caused widespread flooding in several coastal communities in western Alaska, cutting off electricity and forcing residents to flee to a rise.

The force of the water displaced some houses from their foundations and a house in Nome floated along a river until it got stuck in a bridge.

The powerful storm – what remains of Typhoon Merbok – affected weather patterns as far as California, where strong winds and a rare late summer thunderstorm were predicted.

In Alaska, no immediate injuries or deaths were reported, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Officials had warned that some places could have witnessed the worst floods in the past 50 years and that high waters could take up to 14 hours to recede.

Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster statement during the day.

The nearly 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometer) storm front damaged roads and potentially other infrastructure, Dunleavy said in a press conference on Saturday night. Officials will assess any effects on water and sewage systems, dams, fuel storage areas, airports and ports.

Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives were already in Alaska before the storm and Dunleavy said they will stay to help assess the damage.

“Our goal is to carry out the assessments as soon as possible,” he said. “We will move as quickly as possible to provide relief, provide healing, provide the essentials that people need.”

Among the most affected communities was Golovin, a village of about 170 residents who mostly sought refuge in a school or three buildings on a hill. Winds in the village blew over 60 mph (95 km / h) and the water rose 11 feet (3.3 meters) above the normal high tide line and was expected to rise another 2 feet (60 centimeters) Saturday before reaching the ridge.

“Most of the lower part of the community is all inundated with flooded structures and buildings,” said Ed Plumb, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

Clarabelle Lewis, the head of the tribal government facility, the Chinik Eskimo community, was among those who sought refuge on the hill overlooking Golovin. She and others were riding the storm in the tribal office after securing items in their homes from strong winds and helping neighbors do the same.

“The winds howled; it was noisy, “she said.

Most communities experienced wind gusts ranging from 41 mph (66 km / h) to 67 mph (108 km / h), but Cape Romanzof had wind peaks of 91 mph (146 km / h), it has said the meteorological service.

Lewis has never experienced a storm like this in the 20 years he has lived in Golovin.

“We’ve had floods in the past a few times, but it’s never been this bad,” he said. “We have never had houses moved from their foundations.”

There have also been reports of flooding in Hooper Bay, St. Michael’s, Unalakleet and Shaktoolik, where waves broke onto the dock in front of the community, Plumb said.

In Hooper Bay, more than 250 people have taken refuge inside the school, Bethel KYUK public radio reported. The village is one of the largest along the coast with nearly 1,400 inhabitants.

The school’s vice principal, Brittany Taraba, said three houses were demolished and much of the village was flooded.

Residents are helping each other, including donating recently captured and processed moose to feed those taking refuge in the school.

“It’s really cool to watch this community,” Taraba told KYUK.

Plumb said the storm would cross the Bering Strait on Saturday and then head into the Chukchi Sea.

“And then it’s going to go into some kind of park and weaken just west of Point Hope,” he said of the community on Alaska’s northwest coast.

He said there will be high water in the vicinity of the northern Bering Sea until Saturday night before levels begin to decline until Sunday. The rise in water levels further north, in the Chukchi Sea and Kotzebue Strait areas, was expected on Sunday.

In Northern California, wind gusts of up to 40 mph (64 km / h) were predicted overnight Saturday and Sunday morning along coastal areas from Sonoma County to Santa Cruz and higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, he said. the meteorological service.

Winds this strong can knock down drought-stricken branches and trees and cause power outages, weather service meteorologist Ryan Walbrun said.

The storms were supposed to have started on Sunday morning and dumped up to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of rain in coastal areas of Sonoma County and slightly less as the rains moved south to the San Francisco area and mountains. of Santa Cruz, Walbrun said.

“It’s pretty significant rain for this start of the season,” he said, adding that storms are expected to continue intermittently until at least Monday, making commuters to work wet with slippery roads.

In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada northeast of the state capital of Sacramento, firefighters battled what became the largest fire in that state so far this year. Although rain is needed, the winds have been a concern for crews battling the Mosquito Fire, which was contained by 21% as of Saturday morning.

“The winds are sure to cause erratic fire behavior” that could trigger new hot spots despite the welcome humidity, Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said. “The rain won’t put out the fire, but it will help.”

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Gecker reported from San Francisco.

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