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Rural Alaska

Raging Bering Sea doesn't much scare some hardy Alaskans

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published November 9, 2011

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)

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