Begin damage assessment in flooded remote Alaskan villages

Alaskan authorities reached out to some of the most remote villages in the United States on Monday to assess their food and water needs and assess damage after a massive storm this weekend swamped communities along the state’s vast west coast.

No one was injured or killed during the massive storm — the remnants of Typhoon Merbok — as it made its way north through the Bering Strait over the weekend. However, damage to houses, roads and other infrastructure will not become apparent until the floodwaters recede.

About 21,000 residents living in the small communities that stretch along a 1,000-mile stretch of Alaska’s west coast — a stretch longer than the entire length of the California coast — were affected by the storm.

Many homes across the region were flooded, and some were knocked off their foundations by the torrential waters driven by strong winds. Officials began investigating damage to roads, ports, levees, and water and sewage systems.

The state transportation department said most airports in the area are open, and officials are making either temporary or permanent repairs to runways that are still having problems, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Shishmaref had seen water surges 5.5 feet above normal tide level, while Kotzebue and Kivalina had smaller surges.
No one was injured or killed during the massive storm.

The storm remained stalled in the Chukchi Sea near northwest Alaska on Monday, but quickly weakened after affecting weather patterns as far away as California at its strongest.

Coastal flood warnings have been extended for an area north of the Bering Strait as water will be slow to recede in towns like Kotzebue, Kivalina and Shishmaref, National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Lardeo said.

Shishmaref had seen surges of water 5.5 feet above normal tide levels, while Kotzebue and Kivalina had minor surges but both were still without power as of Monday, she said.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Sunday identified five communities — Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Golovin, Newtok and Nome — as badly affected by a combination of flooding, flooding, erosion and electrical problems. Nome, where a house floated down a river until it was caught by a bridge, was among the many to report road damage after registering tidal waves 11.1 feet above normal.

Zidek said state officials are looking closely at those five but are also reaching out to every community in the area because of the numerous reports of damage.

“While the needs may be greater in some, we don’t want to neglect other communities that have smaller issues that still need to be resolved,” he said. Efforts to reach some communities, however, have been difficult due to broken communication lines.

The state’s Emergency Operations Center is fully staffed with military, government agencies and volunteer organizations to deal with the aftermath of the storm.

The storm hit a 1,000-mile stretch of Alaska's west coast.
About 21,000 residents of the small, remote communities were affected.

Alaska National Guard members in the western half of the nation’s largest state have been activated to help, either in the communities where they live or elsewhere along the coast, he said.

The American Red Cross has 50 volunteers ready to help and are sent to the communities that need it most.

Most relief workers have to be flown into these communities because there are few roads in western Alaska. Air support will be provided by the Alaska National Guard, small commuter airlines that routinely fly between these small villages, and possibly bush pilots.

Weather always adversely affects flights in rural Alaska, but Zidek said the forecast appears favorable for conducting response operations.

The National Guard has been dispatched either to the communities where they live or elsewhere along the coast.
Alaska National Guard members in the western half of the state have been activated to help.

“Three may be another minor weather front coming in, but that’s not uncommon for this time of year,” he said.

Dunleavy said he will seek a federal disaster declaration once authorities gather the necessary information about the damage. If approved, the governor said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would cover at least 75% of eligible disaster costs, while the state would foot the bill for the rest.

On Sunday, Dunleavy said time is of the essence as freezing, which means the start of winter, can hit as early as October.

“We just have to make it clear to our federal friends that this isn’t a situation in Florida that we have months to work on,” he said. “We have several weeks.” Begin damage assessment in flooded remote Alaskan villages


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