Rural Alaska

Kotzebue declares disaster after Northwest Alaska blizzard leads to power losses and boil-water notice

Kotzebue declared a disaster Monday after a blizzard hit Northwest Alaska over the weekend, causing power outages and water service interruptions.

Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Dickie Moto allocated $50,000 to the city of Kotzebue from borough disaster funds, borough incident commander Carl Weisner said in an email.

The weather system moved into the region Saturday and lingered until Monday, National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Stokes said. Peak winds in the Kotzebue area reached about 55 mph, and the strongest gusts north of Point Hope reached 105 mph. The snow accumulation added up to about 7 inches, he said.

In addition to blizzard conditions, Kotzebue residents are contending with power outages, water service interruptions and travel complications. A power outage led to a loss in water pressure at the Kotzebue water plant, and the city on Sunday issued a boil-water notice — a precaution against possible contamination of the water system while pressure was down, said plant supervisor Matthew Lazarus.

Accessing businesses and neighborhoods has grown challenging for emergency services, and 76 fire hydrants were buried under snow, Kotzebue City Manager Tessa Baldwin said.

“We have so much snow building up within our city limits that it’s become a flooding hazard,” Baldwin said Monday.

In the letter to Mayor Moto, Baldwin said that if the “snow is not removed from the city in a timely manner, there will be extensive flooding during breakup resulting in serious property damage and a public health crisis as the city’s sewer system is overwhelmed with melting snow runoff — the city has no storm drainage system.”


To remove snow — with berms on the busiest Kotzebue streets up 5 to 6 feet high, and 15 to 20 feet on outlying streets — the city was looking at contracting solutions to ease the workload for their four-person operation, Baldwin said.

The disaster declaration should allow the city to secure funds to hire private contractors “before breakup begins in several weeks,” Baldwin said in the letter.

And then there is a question of where to haul the snow.

“Not only do we have a small team — a small team that works extremely hard — we are inundated with snow right now,” Baldwin said. “There’s nowhere to put it.”

The city was “unburying” some of the busy streets as of Monday, Baldwin said. With high-traffic streets reduced to one lane, city officials asked residents to avoid travel.

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.