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Alaska authorities contacted some of the most remote towns in the United States on Monday to determine their food and water needs, as well as assess damage after a massive storm flooded communities on the state’s vast west coast this weekend.
No one was reported injured or killed in the massive storm — the remains of Typhoon Merbok — as it traveled north through the Bering Strait over the weekend. However, damage to homes, roads and other infrastructure only begins to show when the water recedes.
About 21,000 residents of the small communities along Alaska’s west coast — a distance of more than the entire length of California’s coast — were affected by the storm.
HURRICANE FIONA: PUERTO RICO SEEN ANOTHER DAY WITHOUT POWER, FLASH FLOOD AND ‘CATASTROPHIC’ DAMAGE
Many homes across the region were flooded and some were knocked off their foundations by the rushing water propelled by high winds. Officials began assessing damage to roads, ports, sea walls, and water and sewage systems.
The state transportation department said most airports in the area were open and officials were making temporary or permanent repairs to the runways that are still experiencing problems, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The storm continued to grind to a halt in the Chukchi Sea near northwestern Alaska Monday, but weakened quickly after impacting weather patterns as far as California at its strongest stage.
Coastal flood warnings have been extended for an area north of the Bering Strait as water levels in cities like Kotzebue, Kivalina and Shishmaref will slowly recede, National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Lardeo said.
Shishmaref had seen waves of water 5.5 feet above normal tide level, while Kotzebue and Kivalina had smaller waves, but they still had no power Monday, she said.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy on Sunday identified five communities — Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Golovin, Newtok and Nome — that are severely affected by a combination of flooding, flooding, erosion and electrical problems. Nome, where a house floated along a river until it was caught by a bridge, was one of several reports of road damage after registering tidal waves 11.1 feet above normal.
HURRICANE WARNING ISSUED IN PUERTO RICO FOR TROPICAL STORM FIONA
Zidek said state officials were closely monitoring those five, but also reached out to every community in the region due to the many 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 have yet to be resolved,” he said. However, attempts to reach some communities have been difficult due to the loss of communication lines.
The state’s emergency operations center is fully staffed with military personnel, government agencies and volunteer organizations to deal with the storm’s aftermath.
Members of the Alaska National Guard in the western half of the country’s largest state have been activated to help either in the communities where they live or elsewhere along the coast, he said.
The American Red Cross has 50 volunteers ready to help and will be sent to communities that need it most.
Most support personnel will have to be flown into these communities, as there are few roads in western Alaska. Air support will be provided by the Alaska National Guard, small commuter airlines that routinely fly between these small towns and possibly bush pilots.
WEATHER PATTERN TO BRING RAIN, THUNDERSTORMS OVER FLAT
Weather always negatively impacts flights in rural Alaska, but Zidek said the forecast looks favorable to carry out the response operations.
“Maybe three more smaller fronts are coming, but that’s nothing unusual for this time of year,” he said.
Dunleavy said he would apply for a federal disaster declaration once authorities gather necessary information about the damage. If approved, the governor said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would cover at least 75% of eligible disaster costs, with the state paying the rest.
On Sunday, Dunleavy said time was of the essence because frostbite, meaning winter starts, can happen as early as October.
“We just need to convince our federal friends that it’s not a situation in Florida where we have months to work on this,” he said. “We have several weeks.”