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Authorities in Alaska contacted some of the most remote villages in the United States on Monday to determine their food and water needs, as well as to assess the damage after a huge storm inundated communities on the vast west coast of the state this weekend.
No one was injured or killed in the massive storm – the remnants of Typhoon Merbok – as it moved north through the Bering Strait over the weekend. However, damage to homes, roads and other infrastructure is only beginning to be revealed as the floodwaters recede.
About 21,000 residents living in the small communities that dot a 1,000-mile stretch of Alaska’s west coast — a distance longer than the entire length of California’s coast — were affected by the storm.
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Many houses in the area were flooded and some were toppled by the rushing waters propelled by strong winds. Officials have begun the process of determining damage to roads, ports, levees, and water and sewer systems.
The state Department of Transportation said most area airports are open and officials are making temporary or permanent repairs to runways that still have issues, Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Zidek said. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Alaska.
The storm stalled Monday in the Chukchi Sea near northwest Alaska, but quickly weakened after at its most powerful, it influenced weather as far as California.
Coastal flood warnings have been extended for an area north of the Bering Strait as water will take time to recede in towns like Kotzebue, Kivalina and Shishmaref, National Weather Service meteorologist Kaitlyn Lardeo said.
Shishmaref had seen water surges 5.5 feet above normal tide level, while Kotzebue and Kivalina had weaker surges but were both still without power on Monday, she said.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy on Sunday identified five communities — Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Golovin, Newtok and Nome — as being heavily impacted by a combination of flooding, flooding, erosion and electrical issues. Nome, where a house floated down a river until it was overtaken by a bridge, was among many road damage reported after it recorded tidal surges of 11.1ft above normal.
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Zidek said state officials are looking closely at those five people, but are also contacting all communities in the area because of the numerous reports of damage.
“While the needs may be greater in some, we don’t want to overlook other communities that have minor issues that still need to be addressed,” he said. However, efforts to reach some communities have been difficult due to downed lines of communication.
The state emergency operations center is fully staffed with military, state agencies and volunteer organizations to deal with the aftermath of the storm.
Members of the Alaska National Guard in the western half of the nation’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 need to be airlifted to these communities as there are few roads in western Alaska. Air support will be provided by the Alaska National Guard, small commuter airlines that fly regularly between these small villages, and possibly bush pilots.
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Weather still negatively impacts flights in rural Alaska, but Zidek said the forecast looked favorable for conducting response operations.
“Three may be another smaller weather front, but that’s nothing unusual for this time of year,” he said.
Dunleavy said he would seek a federal disaster declaration as soon as agencies collect the necessary damage information. If approved, the governor said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would cover at least 75% of eligible disaster costs, while the state would cover the rest.
On Sunday, Dunleavy said time is running out because frost, or the onset of winter, can occur as early as October.
“We just have to make it clear to our federal friends that this is not a situation in Florida where we have months to work on this,” he said. “We have several weeks.”