Tuesday, October 3, 2023
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Damage assessments begin in flooded remote Alaska villages

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (AP) – Authorities in Alaska were making contact on Monday with some of the most remote villages in the United States (US) to determine their food and water needs, as well as assess the damage after a massive storm flooded communities on the state’s vast western coast this weekend.

No one was reported injured or killed during the massive storm – the remnants of Typhoon Merbok – as it travelled north through the Bering Strait over the weekend. However, damage to homes, roads and other infrastructure is only starting to be revealed as floodwaters recede.

About 21,000 residents living in the small communities dotting a 1,609-kilometre stretch of Alaska’s western coastline – a distance longer than the entire length of California’s coast – were impacted by the storm.

Many homes throughout the region were flooded, and some were knocked off their foundations by the rushing waters propelled by strong winds. Officials were starting the process of determining damage to roads, ports, seawalls and water and sewage systems.

The state transportation department said most airports in the area were open, and officials were making either temporary or permanent repairs to the runways that still have issues, said Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management spokesperson Jeremy Zidek.

Water surrounds a building in Nome, Alaska. PHOTO: AP

The storm remained stalled on Monday in the Chukchi Sea near northwest Alaska, but it was rapidly weakening after at its most powerful stage influencing weather patterns as far away as California.

Coastal flood warnings were extended for an area north of the Bering Strait since water will be slow to recede in towns like Kotzebue, Kivalina and Shishmaref, National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Lardeo said.

Shishmaref had seen water surges 1.68 metres above the normal tide level, while Kotzebue and Kivalina had smaller surges, but were both still without power on Monday, she said.

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy on Sunday identified five communities – Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Golovin, Newtok and Nome – as being greatly impacted by a combination of high water, flooding, erosion and electri-cal issues.

Nome, where one home floated down a river until it was caught by a bridge, was among the many reporting road damage after recording tidal surges 3.38 metres above normal.

Zidek said state officials were looking closely at those five, but also reaching out to every community in the region because of the numerous reports of damage. “While the needs may be greater in some, we don’t want to neglect those other communities that have minor issues that still need to be resolved,” he said.

However, efforts to reach some communities have been difficult due to downed communication lines.

The state’s emergency operations centre is fully staffed with military, state agencies and volunteer organisations to address the aftermath of the storm.

Alaska National Guard members in the western half of the nation’s largest state have been activated to help, either in the communities where they live or elsewhere along the coast, he said.

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