Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared a disaster for Little Diomede Island following the partial collapse of the city office building last month.
The Nov. 26 incident, in which the weather-worn building sagged and encroached onto the adjacent school, leaving some cracks, has left the remote island community in the Bering Strait grappling with an infrastructure challenge at a time of year when reaching the area is sometimes difficult due to weather and short daylight hours. The island is reached via helicopter.
Gov. Dunleavy activated the state’s Public Assistance program, designed to provide financial support to local governments and select non-profit organizations for the repair of critical infrastructure and emergency protective measures.
A team that includes a Department of Transportation and Public Facilities structural engineer and representatives from Kawerak, the region’s Tribal Health Consortium, visited Little Diomede to assess the situation. Preliminary findings indicate that ground settling and the age of the building contributed to its collapse.
Take a tour through Little Diomede on the way to school with Rob Michaud, who posted his tour on YouTube four years ago, when he was teaching at the school:
Efforts are now underway to remove essential equipment from the city building, including firefighting, and postal office equipment. To prevent further movement of the structure, cribbing has been strategically placed underneath portions of the building. An Alaska State Defense Force member was sent to the island to coordinate with the State Emergency Operation Center.
The building will need to be demolished to prevent further damage to the school, which has been placed into “remote learning” mode since Dec. 4, with plans to resume in-person education after Christmas break. The community’s post office, which was located in the partially collapsed building, has established a temporary location in Little Diomede’s old clinic. Residents can continue to receive packages, and once the community’s postmark equipment is retrieved from the damaged city building, regular mail services will resume.
Little Diomede, home to fewer than 100 people, is the smaller of the two Diomede Islands that sit in the Bering Strait. Big Diomede, less than 2.4 miles to the west, is part of Russia and is west of the International Dateline. All of the people living on Little Diomede live within the small city perched between steep slopes and stormy seas. The island, about 2.8 square miles, is in the Nome Census Area.