The Kuskokwim River showed no mercy to Crooked Creek this spring when a flood destroyed almost a fourth of the houses and battered others.
But this summer, the village's fortunes are looking up.
In August, experienced volunteer builders from evangelist Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse relief organization are expected to descend on the village to help replace nine ruined houses before winter.
And not with Lower 48-style houses that typically freeze up and wear down in Bush Alaska but with cutting-edge homes designed by the nonprofit Cold Climate Housing Research Center of Fairbanks.
"The structures themselves are a new approach," said Jack Hebert, president and CEO of the center.
The houses will be paid for through donations and state grants.
The village is remote, sitting on the north bank of the Kuskokwim about 140 miles northeast of Bethel. The 2010 census counted 105 people there, with a mix of Yup'ik and Deg Xinag Athabascans living in the subsistence community.
The flood came up fast on May 8, a Sunday night, and was more devastating than any Crooked Creek residents had ever seen, said Evelyn Thomas, president of the Crooked Creek Traditional Council.
Some residents fled in their sleeping clothes.
The flood destroyed 10 of an estimated 44 homes and others suffered major damage. Photos of the aftermath show mangled metal, wrecked four-wheelers, jumbled piles of wood.
"I've not been getting much sleep at night worrying about my people not having a home for the winter," said Thomas, who herself lost furniture, appliances, flooring, insulation and the like.
But this week, she and villagers who lost houses to the floodwaters saw the home designs the Fairbanks research center is working on.
"It's awesome," Thomas said. "It will get us in something warm. That's the main focus."
All those who will live in the houses were pleased, Thomas said.
Durability, warmth and quickness are the goals, said Hebert.
A $300,000 donation and the promise of volunteer construction workers by Samaritan's Purse -- and smaller donations from other religious groups -- are helping to pay the bills, said Roberta Carney, deputy director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Her division has about $44,836 in state assistance available for each of nine homes to be rebuilt using Cold Climate Center designs. A 10th ruined house was owned by the AVCP Regional Housing Authority and will be replaced by that Bethel-based housing authority, an official said.
The Samaritan's Purse gift pushes the total available per house to $78,000 for the Cold Climate Center houses, Carney said.
She said that is expected to be enough to cover the costs.
The research center, under an agreement with state emergency officials, has been refining emergency building techniques for the Bush since 2009, Hebert said.
But the center has only been working on designs specific to the Crooked Creek project for a matter of weeks.
What's unique, Hebert said, are pre-built trusses that encompass the floor, walls and roof. The trusses, designed and built by Alaska Engineered Truss of Kenai, provide the structural framework of the home in one step, Hebert said.
The homes will be all different sizes. Their exteriors will be metal, including walls and roof. Workers will spray insulation right onto the metal, with plywood covering walls on the inside.
"It will be a complete thermal envelope," Hebert said. The houses should be energy efficient, comfortable and fast to put together, he said.
Many different organizations are making this project work, Thomas said.
Ron Hoffman, president and CEO of AVCP Regional Housing Authority, advised other agencies on the logistics of delivering materials to a remote Kuskokwim River village, she said.
Nearby Donlin Gold mine workers helped re-install Internet services, provided tents and checked on residents, Thomas said.
Calista Corp., the regional Native corporation, donated gravel for the houses to be placed on.
Samaritan's Purse joined the effort because it has a base of operations in Soldotna and works closely with the state to provide relief where needed, said Luther Harrison, the group's vice president for North American Ministries.
A Presbyterian disaster group, the Mennonite Disaster Service, United Methodists and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee are all contributing, said Carney, the state Homeland Security official.
"We're Russian Orthodox and Catholic," said Thomas. "The people coming in -- we're not even of their faith."
Meanwhile, villagers are hustling to build pads for the new houses.
Everyone involved -- the state, the charity, the truss company, the villagers -- is gearing up for a barge that will get under way shortly and deliver building materials to Crooked Creek by mid-August.
The rebuilding effort will be a race against winter.
The village has already had a frost, said Joanne Combs Vanfleteren, lead teacher at the Crooked Creek school.
But if all goes well, new homes will be up by the end of September.
"It renews our faith in the people of this country," said Thomas. "We had nowhere to turn."
Reach Rosemary Shinohara at email@example.com or 257-4340.