State relief efforts must wait out Wednesday storm before flying to beleaguered Norton Sound communities
ANCHORAGE – Western Alaska is bracing for another bout of violent winter weather just days after a weekend barrage of storms left many communities without power and water. Despite significant need, relief won’t arrive until the weather clears.
Storms have damaged or destroyed homes, roads and airports in half a dozen communities along the Norton Sound since Saturday. On Wednesday, many were still dealing with flooding, loss of communications and water shortages.
State relief workers are preparing to move in to help, but another storm landing Wednesday night has put relief on hold.
“Recovery is a very difficult thing to start when that barrage is continuing to come through,” said John Madden, the director of the state homeland security and emergency management. “As soon as the weather stabilizes, [we’ll get out there] to see the extent of the damage … we still need to see things fresh, when they’re broken, so that we have full knowledge of the damage.”
Communities like Kotlik and Stebbins near the mouth of the Yukon River were hit the hardest. In Stebbins, more than 200 people sought shelter in the community school to escape the floodwaters. Today, those with family in the region said they feel Alaskans are being forgotten in the shadow of the Philippine typhoon.
“Yes, there’s a tragedy and casualties happening in the Philippines, but in Alaska, in our own backyard, we have casualties that we can prevent,” said Wendy Shipton, whose family lives in Stebbins, St. Michael and Kotlik.
Shipton said residents are prepared for annual storms, but her family has told her they’ve never seen storms of this magnitude before. She said people in Stebbins are rationing fuel, and need generators, blankets, food and water.
Despite preparations, for her and some, the storm led to chaos.
“People had run out of their homes in a state of panic and waded in the surge water along with the tons of ice coming up with it, and just, you know, where am I going to go?” she said.
State emergency workers said they’re in contact with several communities and offering guidance for navigating problems until help can arrive.
Madden said they’re sending a team to Unalakleet Thursday to spearhead relief efforts. Their first goal will be to assess and begin repairs on water and sewage problems in Kotlik.
All of that, however, has to wait until the latest storm system moves through Norton Sound.
In addition to state relief efforts, the Red Cross of Alaska has been collecting donations for the community of Kotlik. They’re also sending two workers there tomorrow to aid in disaster relief.