While the nation’s eyes glued to Florida and Hurricane Ian’s path of destruction, Western Alaska is still recovering from major storm damage that occurred two weeks ago. Although the number of people impacted is smaller than in densely populated Florida, the disaster to some communities is nearly as great, and a flurry of work is under way now, work that is expected to continue for months, even as cold weather sets in.
A C-130 cargo plane should be arriving in Nome today full of building material and other necessities. A barge has arrived in Golovin from Nome with building materials, and Fish and Game is reminding people in Western Alaska that they can use hunting proxies if they are elderly or disabled.
President Joe Biden has amended the disaster declaration for Western Alaska to increase the level of federal funding for the recovery. The federal funding that was set at 75 percent of the total eligible costs, but has now been increased to 100 percent for the first 30 days of the incident period. That is the same reimbursement level that Biden guaranteed for the major disaster caused by Hurricane Ian.
Alaska’s west coast storm, a remnant from a Pacific typhoon, has destroyed several dozen homes and severely damaged others. Many structures that were seasonal subsistence shacks and sheds were also destroyed, as was the subsistence equipment stored in those structures.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared the disaster on Sept. 17, the day the storm hit. By Sept. 21, he issued a request for a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Two days later, the Biden Administration approved the declaration, which has already brought significant aid to the region and activated a comprehensive response from the Federal Emergency Management Agencies.
This is one of the largest national guard activation in many years in Alaska. Over 120 personnel from the Alaska National Guard, Alaska State Defense Force, and Alaska Naval Militia Alaska (Alaska Organized Militia – AKOM) are on orders for disaster response and are deploying by aircraft to hub communities and then to local communities to assist with materials for immediate emergency temporary residential repair and storm debris cleanup, including clearing public areas and assisting private residences.
Some 80 members of the National Guard were deployed to Bethel and 30 to Nome, with additional personnel providing support.
Guard teams have also been sent to Hooper Bay, Newtok, Tununak, Golovin, and Shaktoolik, with teams heading to Chevak and Nightmute. The Alaska National Guard is deploying personnel to Koyuk with 5,000 sandbags to rebuild a damaged embankment in the community.
Alaska National Guard and other forces have removed more than 65 tons of debris as of Tuesday from affected communities and worked over 2,000 man-hours. The State Emergency Operation center has extended orders for some Alaska Organized Militia service members through Oct. 7 to meet ongoing response needs in communities.
Department of Environmental Conservation
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is working on reports of local contaminant spills and water/wastewater issues in Branch I and II, which are the southern and middle parts of where the storm hit.
DEC is evaluating community water systems in the storm impact area and is publishing boil water notices as appropriate. DEC has deployed a representative to the Anchorage-based U.S. Coast Guard Incident Command Post to coordinate assessment and clean-up efforts. The Coast Guard completed preliminary environmental impact surveys with DEC. The Coast Guard has assessed 32 communities for pollution concerns and noted significant concerns only persist in Chevak.
The Coast Guard reports that storm impacts have not impacted west coast communities from receiving bulk fuel deliveries with over-the-shore “soft hose” delivery available in places where the usual systems are inoperable.
Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys
Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys is in the storm impact area collecting high-water marks to record and calibrate the storm’s historical impact.
The National Weather Service is utilizing the division’s findings to adjust forecasting for impacted communities due to the seawall and sea barrier damages.
Department of Transportation
Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has reopened all airports in the storm impact area and is working to repair roads and state facilities.
Crews continue to assess roads across the impacted area and have started drone surveys in several communities. Crews are also assisting local jurisdictions with repairs as possible. Maintenance and Operations Division is repairing damaged portions of the Nome-Council roadway.
DOT is providing contract support for emergency building material deployment in Golovin.
United States Army Corps of Engineers continues to complete surveys in the affected areas. Teams deployed to Shishmaref, Unalakleet, and Kivalina this week for additional site surveys. USACE contractors surveyed the Nome port and determined the port is safe to operate normally, though the west side of the entrance sustained shoaling.
Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
ANTHC has received community donated salmon and ANTHC Native foods program manager is storing it prior to delivery to communities in need.
Teams visited the following communities: Chefornak, Chevak, Hooper Bay, Kipnuk, Napakiak, Napaskiak, Newtok, Scammon Bay, and Tununak.
Napaskiak sustained damage to the garbage dump and planned to hire locally to assist with community cleanup. Napakiak sustained damage to the school heating system, which has been offline since the storm, but new parts have arrived and full repairs are planned this week.
Teams completed flights to Golovin, Elim, Unalakleet, Stebbins, Koyuk, and Kotlik last week. State Department of Health is providing the community of St. Michaels personal protective equipment and technical assistance for re-internment of human remains.
The State Emergency Operation Center has been in contact with the Northwest Arctic Borough’s incident management team as well as the communities of Kivalina, Deering, and Wainwright. There are no reports of damage at this time.