As western Alaska storm weakens, damage assessments begin on hundreds of miles of coastline

Floodwaters inundated low-lying areas of Golovin on Saturday. (Photo by Josephine Daniels)

The remnants of a huge Pacific typhoon that hit a thousand-mile stretch of western Alaska was dissipating Sunday morning as it continued to pose risks to communities on the northwest coast of Alaska. ‘Arctic. Southern communities are beginning to assess the damage caused by one of the worst storms on record.

“The climax has been reached,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Lardeo. “It’s a debuff system.”

The storm left a trail of wreckage on the Alaskan coast, with flooding, telecommunications outages and damage to buildings and infrastructure, including roads, docks, levees and village trails.

The storm system continued to track north Sunday afternoon, where it is expected to stagnate and weaken rapidly in the Chukchi Sea. According to Lardeo, the storm could still inundate communities north of Kotzebue, including Kivalina, Point Hope and Wainwright.

Flooding caused by storm surge in Kotzebue on Sunday, September 18, 2022. (Photo by Reid Magdanz)

The storm is expected to remain in place for the next two days, Weather Service meteorologist Jonathan Christ said in a video update Sunday. As a result, “water levels in this area are going to be slower to drop,” he said.

Water had started to drop in Norton Sound on Sunday, but levels in the Chukchi Sea and Kotzebue Strait were peaking, he said. In Deering, the water is expected to peak later Sunday and stay above the normal high tide line through Tuesday afternoon, Christiest said.

[Earlier coverage: Worst storm in years batters Western Alaska coast]

“The good news with the system remaining in place longer is that we no longer expect widespread impacts, or really any impacts, with respect to coastal flooding from Point Lay to Wainwright all the way to Utqiaġvik,” said he declared. “The water is simply not expected to rise high enough to cause impacts at this time.”

The storm is what remains of what was Typhoon Merbok, which formed farther east in the Pacific Ocean than where such storms typically appear.

“The storm is still ongoing and we are still working with communities in the Northwest Arctic Borough who are experiencing the effects of the storm,” said Homeland Security Division spokesman Jeremy Zidek. and emergency management.

Parts of Kotzebue were flooded late Saturday and Sunday morning, with residents in some lower parts of town sheltering elsewhere overnight.

Flooding caused by storm surge in Kotzebue on Sunday, September 18, 2022. (Photo by Reid Magdanz)

Further south, water levels were declining in communities at the mouths of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, Norton Sound and the Seward Peninsula.

“They’re past their peaks for this event, which was either yesterday afternoon or overnight,” Lardeo said. “It will either be a slow descent or the water will start to come down.”

Western Alaska Storm Areas

Severe weather conditions had largely subsided along the Kuskokwim River by Sunday morning, with no further flood advisories overnight.

“We haven’t received any other reports since this morning,” said meteorologist Nicole Sprinkles of the weather service. “Everything should start to roll back and calm down.”

As the worst of the winds and flooding subsided, the state’s emergency operations center was assessing the damage, gathering reports on damaged infrastructure and property from communities along the Bering Sea coast. . Some of the most severe damage was reported at Chevak, Hooper Bay, Newtok, Nome, Shaktoolik and Golovin.

Hooper Bay Western Alaska Storm Flood

Flooding in Hooper’s Bay along the Bering Sea coast on Friday. (Photo by Ervin Chayalkun)

Hooper Bay Western Alaska Storm Flood

Flooding in Hooper Bay on Friday. (Photo by Ervin Chayalkun)

“Communities that were hit hard yesterday, that’s where we see a lot of damage,” Zidek said. “There are a lot of impacts throughout the region. We understand that there is damage to residences, that there is damage to infrastructure in many communities and that the recovery process is going to be widespread.

A major fire on Saturday night in Nome reduced a popular Front Street restaurant to ashes. Driving through high water, members of the Nome Volunteer Fire Department demolished the Bering Sea Bar and Grill as it burned to prevent the fire from spreading to a nearby hotel and apartment building, according to resident Trish Stang. The fire was fanned by high winds.

Telecom issues

One of the problems faced by state emergency responders is that telecommunications coverage in some communities is inconsistent, dropping out due to infrastructure impacts or loss of local power sources.

“Have communications been impacted? yes,” Zidek said. “Does power have impacts? Yes. At what degrees? It is truly a changing and evolving situation.

GCI, which provides phone and internet service to many affected communities, said its Anchorage headquarters was working with local technicians in western Alaska to monitor system outages.

“Our current assessments indicate that consumer network services are impacted in Chevak, Elim, Golovin, Hooper Bay, Newtok, White Mountain, Shaktoolik, Stebbins, St. George, Unalakleet,” GCI spokeswoman Heather said. Handyside. “Internet was briefly interrupted but has been restored in Emmonak, Greyling and Kwigillingok.”

“Some of the consumer outages are likely due to commercial power outages and flooding affecting home internet equipment,” she said, adding that as storm conditions continue to ease , “GCI teams prioritize dispatch needs while organizing resources and equipment”.

Damaged airports

As of Sunday morning, the condition of airstrips in the area was not fully known. Several runways were reportedly flooded on Saturday and could not accept planes. According to Zidek, the state is working to determine the extent of damage and debris to infrastructure that will be crucial for the delivery of supplies and personnel in the days ahead.

By Sunday morning, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Facilities had compiled an updated list of damaged and unusable infrastructure.

Communities suspected of having or reporting some degree of trouble with their airstrips include Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Newtok, Golovin, Kongiganak and Shaktoolik, although some of these are likely still operational.

“Golovin airport is under water. It will take Black Hawks to assess the damage,” said Melanie Bahnke, president of the regional nonprofit Kawerak.

Annette Piscoya, Nome, storm

Flooding at Nome airport on Saturday September 17, 2022. (Photo Annette Piscoya)

She said information was still coming in from the 15 Bering Strait communities beyond Nome. So far, three houses are said to have disappeared in Golovin. According to Bahnke, the Shishmaref sewerage road used to empty the waste “has been wiped out”. Residents of Teller have been evacuated from the Old Town site, Stebbins remains flooded, and there are reports that the Gambell airstrip on St. Lawrence Island would have been unusable.

Along the roads of Nome, people find their family huts and fishing camps destroyed or mutilated. Bahnke said her husband checked their cabin beyond Cape Nome on Saturday evening.

“My smokehouse is gone, my addiction is gone. The picnic table and a canoe are gone,” she said. During the night, the winds had changed direction and she did not know if the main structure had succeeded. “Other people have lost their cabins.”

Early indications from the department are that the wharf at Scammon Bay suffered severe damage and the road leading to Bethel Marina was still under water as of Sunday morning.

Large swathes of the eastern part of Front Street in Nome have been sheared off their asphalt pavement and badly eroded.

Alaska Airlines was able to fly a commercial plane to Nome on Sunday morning. The jet service was unable to get to Bethel or Kotzebue, according to Alaska Airlines regional vice president Marilyn Romano.

Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a state disaster declaration on Saturday. A request for federal reporting, which could activate additional resources, has not yet been made, but may be made as the assessment progresses.

Bahnke said she spoke with the congressional delegation on Sunday in hopes of securing a federal disaster declaration.

“The tribes could do it directly with FEMA, but it requires a 20% local match, which just isn’t possible,” Bahnke said. She hopes the state will present the request to federal emergency officials.

“It’s going to be a phased approach. We will try to meet the immediate needs first,” Zidek said.

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