A veteran Iditarod musher was badly injured Wednesday while he was helping clean up damage left behind by a historic storm that battered much of Western Alaska nearly two weeks ago.
Jessie Holmes, 39, had reached out to fellow mushers Brent Sass, Jeff Deeter and Richie Beattie to see if they wanted to travel to Golovin, one of the communities hit the hardest during the storm, Sass said. The group was eager to help with storm recovery and arrived in the village Tuesday, according to Sass.
The remnants of Typhoon Merbok struck Western Alaska starting Sept. 16 and severely damaged much of Golovin, which sits along the northern Norton Sound coast and is home to roughly 150 people. A damage assessment estimated that 22 of the 64 homes in Golovin were badly damaged, with seven not likely to be salvageable. Other homes were left filled with sand and possessions were soaked with contaminated floodwaters.
Sass said he and the mushers have been staying in a shop in the village and are doing anything they can to help out. On Wednesday, Sass said, that meant pulling water-logged plywood and insulation from floors so things could begin to dry out.
He and Holmes were working on the third building of the day when things took a turn, Sass said. They were standing underneath the plywood when Holmes went to pull down a board, and the entire area collapsed on top of them.
Holmes, Sass said, had been smashed by the plywood, insulation and a layer of woven plastic Tyvek material.
“It was pretty frantic,” Sass said. “I was pinned a little bit with my leg and I was able to get out, but I realized that Jessie was underneath it.”
Sass said he and Beattie quickly headed to the area where Holmes was trapped and started pulling the materials off him. They cut the plastic and were able to pull Holmes out several minutes later.
“It was really dire — it was the three longest minutes of my life trying to get him out,” Sass said.
The men were working in a building next to the village clinic and Sass said a doctor was luckily in town on Wednesday to immediately treat Holmes, who lives in the Brushkana area off the Denali Highway. He was medevaced to Nome, where doctors evaluated him and decided to again medevac him to Anchorage for additional care.
Sass said he and the mushers talked with Holmes over the phone Wednesday night and he was in good spirits. A GoFundMe page started for Holmes said he had internal injuries, a broken wrist and broken ribs. The fundraiser was started by people living in Golovin who want to help him while he recovers, Sass said.
“When you have 40-or-some dogs and you’re out and you’re not able to take care of them, he’s going to need support in all the ways he can,” Sass said. “Whatever is raised will go to good use.”
Sass said he and the other mushers will continue to help out in Golovin until Saturday.
Holmes could not be reached by phone on Thursday. Sass said he hadn’t heard any additional updates on Holmes’ final diagnosis or what recovery will look like.
“We’re all just happy that he’s alive at this point,” he said.
Holmes is featured on the reality show “Life Below Zero” on National Geographic.