As western Alaska storm weakens and flood waters recede, damage assessments begin on hundreds of miles of coastline

The remnants of a massive Pacific typhoon that battered a thousand-mile stretch of western Alaska dissipated on Sunday morning, with floodwaters falling and communities assessing damage from one of the worst storms on record.

“The climax has been reached,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Lardeo said Sunday. “It’s a debuff system.”

The storm left a trail of wreckage on the Alaskan coast, with flooding, telecommunications outages and damage to buildings and infrastructure, including roads, docks, levees and village trails.

As of Sunday evening, no deaths, serious injuries or missing persons had been reported, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said.

The storm system continued to move north where it is expected to stall and weaken rapidly into the Chukchi Sea.

Flooding in Kotzebue

The storm is expected to hold for the next two days, Weather Service meteorologist Jonathan Christiest said during a Sunday Video Update. As a result, “water levels in this area are going to be slower to drop,” he said.

“The good news with the system remaining in place longer is that we no longer expect widespread impacts, or really any impacts, with respect to coastal flooding from Point Lay to Wainwright all the way to Utqiaġvik,” said he declared. “The water is simply not expected to rise high enough to cause impacts at this time.”

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

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

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

Flooding in Kotzebue

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

“They’re past their peaks for this event,” Lardeo said.

Western Alaska Storm Areas

As the worst of the wind and flooding subsided, the state’s emergency operations center was assessing the damage, collecting reports of damaged infrastructure and property from communities along the Bering Sea coast.

According to 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 act as quickly as possible and will focus on communities that have really suffered damage and need help the most,” Dunleavy said. “But all communities will be looked at, and wherever there is help needed, we will get it as soon as possible.”

Even communities that haven’t suffered the worst of the impacts face major problems in the days ahead. Unalakleet, Elim, Hooper Bay and Golovin face water issues. Hundreds of people took shelter at the Hooper Bay school over the weekend, including residents of nearby Kotlik, according to the public radio station KYUK. Most of Chevak’s fishing boats are missing, according to information from KYUK and Alaska Public Media.

“There are a lot of impacts throughout the region. We understand there is damage to residences, there is infrastructure damage in many communities and the recovery process is going to be widespread,” said Jeremy Zidek, spokesperson for the Division of Security. Interior and State Emergency Management.

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

Telecom impacts

One of the issues facing state emergency responders is that telecommunications coverage in some communities was inconsistent throughout Sunday, dropping out due to infrastructure impacts or loss of power sources. local food.

“Have communications been impacted? yes,” Zidek said. “Does power have impacts? Yes. At what degrees? It is truly a changing and evolving situation.

GCI, which provides phone and internet service to many affected communities, said its Anchorage headquarters was working with local technicians in western Alaska to monitor system outages.

“Our current assessments indicate that consumer network services are impacted in Chevak, Elim, Golovin, Hooper Bay, Newtok, White Mountain, Shaktoolik, Stebbins, St. George, Unalakleet,” GCI spokeswoman Heather said. Handyside. “Internet was briefly interrupted but has been restored in Emmonak, 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 flooding affecting home internet equipment,” she said, adding that as storm conditions continue to ease , “GCI teams prioritize dispatch needs while organizing resources and equipment.”

Damaged infrastructure

On Sunday afternoon, state officials said they believed all runways at area airports were usable. Several runways were reportedly flooded on Saturday and could not accept planes.

Annette Piscoya, Nome, storm

Crews of heavy equipment operators had successfully cleared debris from runways across much of the area by Sunday morning, according to Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy. Some communities have seen damaged lights along airstrips due to flooding, she said.

Melanie Bahnke, head of Kawerak, a regional nonprofit organization based in Nome, said information was still coming from the 15 Bering Strait communities served by Nome. So far, three houses are said to have disappeared in Golovin. According to Bahnke, the sewerage road out of Shishmaref used to empty rubbish and buckets of honey “has been wiped out”. Other communities reported flooding and residents being evacuated for shelter Saturday night.

Along the roads of Nome, people find their family huts and fishing camps destroyed or mutilated. Bahnke said her husband checked their cabin beyond Cape Nome on Saturday evening.

“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 did not know if the main structure had succeeded. “Other people have lost their cabins.”

Large swathes of the eastern part of Front Street in Nome have been sheared off their asphalt pavement and badly eroded.

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

Governor Dunleavy issued a declaration of state disaster on Saturday.

Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, chief of the Alaska National Guard, said Sunday that all guardsmen and members of the State Defense Forces in the western region have been activated. Additional air support is directed to western Alaska: three Guard helicopters in Nome and one in Bethel, along with a C-17 and a C-130, both large military cargo planes, on standby .

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

He said the goal was to get 10 guards to Hooper Bay, where hundreds of meals are provided to sheltering residents, as well as sent guards to Bethel and Nome.

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

Bryan Fisher, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said state officials, including a state emergency official, will be deployed to western Alaska on Monday. They will be joined by members of the American Red Cross from the Lower 48 who will fly to the area to begin assessing where food, water and shelter are needed.

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

“The tribes could do it directly with FEMA, but it requires a 20% local match, which just isn’t possible,” Bahnke said. She hopes the state will present the request to federal emergency officials.

Although Dunleavy has not yet requested a federal disaster declaration, the state expects to do so in the coming days.

“We’re going to work with them to do the assessment,” Fisher said, “and that’s really a safety net, provided the governor’s disaster programs, (which) have been activated since Saturday morning, will basically provide initial money to make this answer.

“If this is approved by the president, there will be additional financial resources that will come to bear in the long term,” Fisher said.

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