Alaska’s floodwaters are receding after the remnants of a powerful storm hit the state’s west coast. But residents are facing power outages, water damage and worries about how to survive the coming winter.
On Monday, officials were contacting some of the most remote villages in the United States – some only accessible by plane – to determine the need for food and water and to assess damage from the huge weekend storm.
Although no deaths have been reported, the remnants of Typhoon Merbok caused damage to homes, roads and other infrastructure to communities living along Alaska’s vast west coast. About 21,000 residents live along the 1,000-mile (1,609-km) section of Alaska’s western shoreline — which spans more than the entire length of the California shoreline — that was affected.
As soon as the flood water recedes, the full picture of the devastation has started coming to the fore. Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy has identified five communities – Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Golovin, Newtok and Nome – as the hardest hit by a combination of high water, flooding, erosion and power issues.
Phnom, where a house was washed from its foundations and floated in a river until caught by a bridge, was one of several areas to report road damage after recording a tidal surge. On Saturday, the city’s tidal gauge was 10.52 feet (3.2 m) above the low tide line, the highest level recorded since 1974.
The storm made its way south over the weekend, bringing rare September rain to Northern California, which aided efforts to contain 19 square miles (49 sq km) of mosquito fires in the Sierra Nevada foothills, but sparked new concerns. .
CalFire spokesman Scott McLean said, “It helped a little bit to put out that aggressive fire.” “But we’re going to have new safety issues with all the mud now. And the moisture in the ground can cause some of those damaged trees to fall.”
Rainfall will increase the risk of ash and mud flows over the Mosquito Fire, California’s biggest fire of the year, the National Weather Service said. In the northwest, local flooding and landslides were reported in parts of the coast scorched by severe wildfires two years ago.
Meanwhile, access to remote areas in Alaska — including Nome, Kotzebue and Unlakaleat and small villages consisting primarily of Native Alaskan residents — remains difficult, said Jeremy Zidek, Alaska’s public information officer for homeland security and emergency management.
The flooding and its damage have not only hampered the local people’s ability to hunt and fish for this season, but also to store provisions to sustain them during the long winter months. Recovery efforts will be particularly challenging in an area where some villages can only be reached by air or barge.
Zidek said state officials were reaching out to every community in the area. “While the needs may be greater in some, we don’t want to neglect other communities that have minor issues that still need to be addressed,” he said.
Alaska National Guard members have been activated to help, and the American Red Cross has 50 volunteers ready. Most support personnel will have to fly due to some roads in western Alaska.
The cascading crisis up and down the US west coast comes as scientists have warned for years that global warming will make Alaska more vulnerable to large non-tropical cyclones, even as it grapples with dry, warm conditions. also triggers the damage caused by wildfires throughout the West.
Mary Peltola, the state’s only congressional representative, said she was in touch with mayors across the region. Peltola, who hails from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta that includes some of the hardest-hit communities, said she was working with state senators to secure more disaster funding.
Governor Dunleavy, who issued the disaster declaration on Saturday morning, said officials expect recovery efforts to accelerate before the region freezes in about three weeks.
Time is of the essence, Dunleavy said on Sunday, pledging to reunite communities as soon as possible. Freeze-up, or the onset of winter, can occur as early as October.
“We just have to impress our federal friends that this is not the situation in Florida where we have months to work on this,” he said. “We have several weeks.”