Raging Bering Sea doesn't much scare some hardy Alaskans

Alex DeMarban
Standing water on the city side of Nome's seawall creates a small whirlpool as increasingly strong waves continue to batter the coast on Wednesday afternoon.
Photo by Matthew Smith, KNOM Radio Mission
A storm-damaged building on Nome's 1st Street on Wednesday, November 9. See more images from KNOM Radio Mission on Flickr.
Photo by Rosa Schmidt, KNOM Radio Mission
The Kivalina seawall after the November 2011 storm.
Photo courtesy Janet Mitchell
A storm-damaged light fixture in Kivalina.
Photo courtesy Janet Mitchell
Storm damage in Kivalina included a wall blown into the street.
Photo courtesy Janet Mitchell
Residents of Tununak on the village boardwalk after the storm on Wednesday.
Katie Basile photo
Ice blown in from the Tununak River pushed boats onto the boardwalk in Tununak during the storm on November 9.
Katie Basile photo
Waves threaten cabins on Nome's Council Road on Wednesday.
Photo by Catherine Lepine
On Little Diomede high surf pushes shipping containers thought safe on a helicopter pad into the water.
Photo courtesy Sandra Quinn
Storm driven waves break on the shore near Teller.
Maria Inakak and Billy Echuck prepare to spend an evening in the school gymnasium after evacuating their home in Tununak on November 8.
Photo by Katie Basile
Residents of Tununak keep themselves busy with arts and crafts in the school gymnasium after evacuating their homes due to high winds and flood warnings.
Photo by Katie Basile
Charlene Sims, principal of Paul T. Albert Memorial School in Tununak, Alaska, discusses rising flood water concerns with evacuees.
Photo by Katie Basile
Tununak residents and school employees keep their eyes on the weather after evacuating their homes in Tununak, Alaska. From left: Barb Dean, Anna Inakak, Billy Echuck and Maria Inakak.
Photo by Katie Basile
A resident of Tununak moves his four-wheeler away from the seawall in preparation for hurricane force winds on November 8, 2011.
Photo by Katie Basile
Winds gust across the seawall in Tununak, Alaska during low-tide on November 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm.
photo by Katie Basile
Residents of Tununak, Alaska brace themselves as winds gust to 45mph at 4:30pm on November 8.
Photo by Katie Basile
Visiting teaching artists Julie McWilliams and Shelley Toon Hight leave Paul T. Albert Memorial School in Tununak after an early release due to high wind warnings on Tuesday.
Photo by Katie Basile
A storm rolls in across the Bering Sea in Tununak, Alaska around noon on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Katie Basile photo
Kivalina looking northeast from the FAA station at 5 pm on Tuesday, November 8.
Photo courtesy FAA
The village of Teller on Tuesday, November 8. A large winter storm is expected to make landfall on Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.
Photo by Jack Cano
Residents of Nome board up house windows ahead of a major winter storm.
Photo by Rena Gologergen
Looking northwest from the FAA station at Kivalina at 1:30pm on Tuesday, November 8, 2011.
Photo courtesy FAA
A house in Unalakleet is boarded up against the winter storm forecast to come ashore on Tuesday, November 8.
Photo by Bing Towarak
NOAA's Alaska weather forecast for Tuesday, November 8, 2011.
NOAA illustration
View of Alaska from the GOES-11 satellite on Tuesday morning, November 8, 2011.
Photo courtesy NOAA

A raging sea outside Little Diomede in the middle of the Bering Sea swept away shipping vans filled with construction materials as if they were Legos. The school's principal hopes that doesn't put the project -- a school remodel -- on hold. 

Two of the three container vans -- they resemble mobile homes -- are lost at sea, said Sandra Quinn.

"When you see the vans go around the point heading north, it's not like it's going to be salvaged," she said.  "It's gone."

Quinn is school principal in the village that has only helicopter access, and once a week at that, from mainland Alaska.

With the materials inside, one of those vans surely weighed tons. It was filled with building blocks for the school foundation -- metal beams, concrete pads and other material.

"You just don't expect that to blow away," she said.

In preparation for the meteorological maelstrom that's still sweeping across much of Western Alaska, residents on the village and workers with SKW Construction worked hard to stash equipment at one of the higher spots in town, the helicopter pad that sits on the edge of the Bering Sea.

As a buffer to block waves, they lined up heavy equipment such as a front-end loader and a Caterpillar, Quinn said. That worked a bit. Though one of the vans ended up in the sea, two were blocked by the heavy machinery.

On Wednesday, though, towering waves crashed in from a different direction and took the other two into the ocean. 

One van still visible from the village is full of electrical supplies for the school and hopefully can be salvaged, Quinn said.

The good news is everyone's fine in Little Diomede. Kids even went to school today. It is, after all, the safest place to be.

People didn't seek refuge at the school, as they did in other villages, and the temperature rose slightly above freezing. The power plant shut off power last night, too. With winds screeching, officials wanted to make sure lines weren't deadly if they fell, Quinn said.

It was a busy night. A temporary construction road carved along the beach -- near the barge landing -- is now filled with boulders and will have to be cleared. The wind kept knocking windows open at the school. Driftwood from the Yukon River, or somewhere, is now piled up on the beaches.

"We never have that on our beaches," she said.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com