Rural Alaska

Photos: Disintegrating village of Newtok stages move to new site

NEWTOK -- The only way to reach the village of Newtok from the airstrip is across an old wooden boardwalk so crooked and broken that a person on foot risks falling between gaps in planks into the marsh below.

The school principal hauls his own honey bucket. An aide at the health clinic lives with four others in a one-room home where duct tape patches cracks between walls. Homes tilt at crazy angles after years of sinking unevenly into thawing permafrost.

While new houses and modern water and sewer systems lift up lives in some rural communities, government agencies as of late see little reason to invest in eroding villages that everyone is preparing to leave behind.

This isolated Southwest Alaska community is disappearing as the land sinks, sea levels rise and the bordering Ninglick River gobbles up an average of one-fourth of a football field a year.

"My house used to be down there by the pond, and they had to drag it up here," said Elsie Stewart, 49, standing on the front steps of her home, moved a few years back after a flood. The hide of a musk ox hunted by her brother lay drying outside. She knits the fine yarn spun from qiviut, the down, into scarves and smokerings, or nachaqs, as part of the Anchorage-based Ooomingmak cooperative.

With severe erosion and flooding in Newtok, Stewart is unsure the place she was born and raised will be there for her own children.

But Newtok doesn't intend to lose itself to the creep of climate change. Of more than two dozen threatened Alaska villages, Newtok is the one farthest along in efforts to relocate to new, higher ground.

Read more: Newtok not waiting: Disintegrating Alaska village stages move to new site

Watch a video: Hear from a villager how erosion is changing his way of life