Watch video: A winter tour of Little Diomede’s school, where Gov. Dunleavy has declared disaster

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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.

11 COMMENTS

  1. It is time to rethink how education is delivered in places like this community. It is difficult to find teachers that are qualified to teach, even without all the problems listed. There are not always qualified people in the community to take care of the buildings that are needed. It is time for Virtual schooling in these small bush schools. Students would receive a much better education all around.

    • I think before you can consider that type of learning the fix all condition, you must first ensure that each village has excellent satellite communications, which had been a problem in the past. Having traveled the bush community in Alaska for over 28 years as an auditor with the USPS, I know the problems with communications as we upgraded the Post Offices when we were able to electronically, and that was still iffy at times when I retired. I used to converse with Representative Rich Foster out of Nome back in the 80’s-’90’s about the rail/ or road coming out of Fairbanks on a route that was surveyed for back during WWII. He thought, like me; that to improve the area for the future, this would have to happen. It would lower fuel costs, travel costs, and grocery costs. Just like the changing of the lower 48 as the rail moved out West.

    • The negative history and persisting aura of shipping native kids off to government boarding schools complicates this.

  2. That school was built in 2019, I believe. The video exemplifies the idiocy of having people design buildings that have zero idea of the environment the building is going into. The school should be on piling and the city building should be on piling as well, not 4 x 4 lumber.

  3. The native corporation has more than enough money to fix this themselves. They should pay first before the state dishes out any money. And… have a competent engineer and contractor do the work, not their local hire persons.

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