Western Alaska villages survey storm damage, call for aid

dkelly@adn.comNovember 14, 2013 

Damage assessments are kicking into gear in coastal communities in western Alaska after a pair of storms left a bruising swath of flooding and ice this week.

The most recent storm hit Wednesday night, sending floodwaters and high winds into a Norton Sound region already shaken by a powerful tempest that barreled in over the weekend.

As of Thursday afternoon, state emergency officials had received local disaster declarations from Kotlik, Stebbins, Scammon Bay, Shishmaref, and Tununak, said Jeremy Zidek, spokesman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Reports of damage also rolled in Thursday from Unalakleet, Teller, Nome, Newtok, Emmonak, Nunam Iqua, Shaktoolik, Elim, Savoonga, Saint Michael, Golovin, Koyuk, and Alakanuk, Zidek said.

Roads and boardwalks appear to have borne the brunt of the latest storm's blows. Floodwaters washed out four major roads in Tununak, Zidek said, and Scammon Bay reported damage to roads leading to the local fuel station, dock and airport.

The week's weather also downed communication lines in Stebbins.

In Kotlik, the village hardest-hit by the storms, the flooding wasn't as bad Wednesday as earlier in the week, said city manager Lori Mike. Water levels returned to normal at about 6 a.m. Thursday, and the roughly 250 people who sheltered overnight at Kotlik School began returning home.

Still, 14 households have reported water damage, and Mike said that number may rise once state emergency officials have formally surveyed the homes.

The storm that hit Saturday night destroyed the above-ground water and sewage lines running through the village, and an estimated 20 homes lost water sewer boxes attached to the buildings, Mike said. Running water and sewage, a key focus of relief efforts moving forward, remained largely unavailable on Thursday, with crews unable to access key areas because of ice.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. distributed purification tablets and other supplies on Wednesday, and bottled water has been distributed through stores and relief organizations, including the American Red Cross of Alaska. YKHC has also been vaccinating Kotlik residents over fears of crowding and limited water.

Some of the flood-damaged homes reported losing winter gear and clothing, as well as stores of wood and food, Mike said.

Relief organizations, companies and individuals have worked to dispatch aid to Kotlik throughout the week. The Emmonak Corp. sent in water and sandwiches the day after the initial flood, Mike said.

"The whole community has been chipping in to help out," she said.

For now, however, village infrastructure has essentially reverted back to the time before running water was installed in the late 1990s.

"It's back to the good old days. We need to get the honey buckets out of the museum," Mike said, laughing wearily.

Gov. Sean Parnell has yet to formally declare the region a disaster. On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Emergency Management, sent a letter to Parnell urging a state disaster declaration in order to trigger federal resources, according to a statement from Begich's office.

Zidek said that state emergency officials are in the process of compiling information on the storm damage for the governor.


At least one relief fund has been established through Wells Fargo -- the "Kotlik Community Fund," set up by Carolynn Sanders, administrative assistant with the non-profit Rural Alaska Fuel Services. Interested donors can go to any Wells Fargo branch and request that a donation be made to the fund.

Donations to the American Red Cross disaster relief fund can be made online at redcross.org/alaska, or brought to the Red Cross office at 235 E. 8th Ave., Ste. 200, in Anchorage.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.


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