Floodwaters in Alaska recede after the remnants of a powerful typhoon hit the west coast of the state. But residents continue to deal with power outages, water damage and worries about how to survive the coming winter.
On Monday, authorities made contact with some of the most remote villages in the United States – some only accessible by plane – to determine food and water needs and assess the damage caused by the huge weekend storm.
Although no fatalities were reported, the remnants of Typhoon Merbok damaged homes, roads and other infrastructure in communities that dot Alaska’s vast west coast. About 21,000 residents live along the 1,000-mile (1,609 km) stretch of Alaska’s west coast – a distance longer than the entire length of the California coast – that was affected.
A fuller picture of the destruction is only beginning to emerge as the floodwaters recede. Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy has identified five communities – Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Golovin, Newtok and Nome – as the hardest hit by a combination of flooding, flooding, erosion and electrical issues.
Nome, where a house was washed away from its foundations and floated down a river until it was overtaken by a bridge, was among several areas reporting road damage after tidal surges were recorded. The city’s tide gauge on Saturday was 10.52 feet (3.2 meters) above the low tide line, the highest level recorded since 1974.
The storm tracked south over the weekend, bringing rare September rains to northern California, which helped contain the 19-square-mile (49 km2) Mosquito Fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills, but has raised new concerns.
“It helped smother that aggressive fire a bit,” CalFire spokesman Scott McLean said. “But we’re going to have new safety issues now with all the mud that’s out there. And the moisture in the ground could bring down some of those damaged trees.
Persistent showers over the Mosquito Fire, California biggest fire of the year, will increase the risk of ash and mudflows, the National Weather Service said. To the northwest, localized flooding and landslides have been reported in parts of the coast scarred by a massive wildfire two years ago.
Meanwhile, access to remote parts of Alaska — including Nome, Kotzebue and Unalakleet and smaller villages with mostly Alaska Native residents — remains difficult, said Jeremy Zidek, chief information officer. public to the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The resulting floods and damage not only disrupted the residents’ ability to hunt and fish for the season, but also stocked up provisions to last them through the long winter months. Recovery efforts will be particularly difficult in an area where some villages are only accessible by plane or barge.
Zidek said state officials are reaching out to all communities in the region. “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.
Members of the Alaska National Guard have been activated to help, and the American Red Cross has 50 volunteers ready. Most support personnel will need to be airlifted due to the limited roads in western Alaska.
The cascading crises along the West Coast of the United States come after scientists warned for years that global warming would make Alaska more vulnerable to large non-tropical cyclones, even if it brings drier conditions and warmer temperatures that are fueling the devastating wildfires in the west.
Mary Peltola, the state’s sole representative in Congress, said she has been in contact with area mayors. Peltola, who is from the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta, encompassing some of the hardest-hit communities, said she was working with state senators to secure more disaster funding.
Governor Dunleavy, who issued a disaster declaration on Saturday morning, said officials hoped to speed up recovery efforts before the region begins to freeze over in about three weeks.
Time is running out, Dunleavy said Sunday, pledging to restore integrity to communities as soon as possible. Freeze-up, 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.”