• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 55s

Norton Sound communities call for aid amid series of violent storms

By KTVA Alaska 10:43 PM November 12, 2013

Kotlik, Stebbins, Unalakleet, Shaktoolik among western communities affected

Anchorage –

ANCHORAGE – A series of powerful winter storms devastated several communities in Western Alaska’s Norton Sound region.

Many were left without power, water and communications after the weekend storms subsided and by Tuesday, residents were still coming to grips with the damage.

“I saw a lot of ice. Ice all over,” said Kotlik resident Victor Tonuchuk. “I saw damage to the water and sewer pipings, I saw smoke houses and fish racks moved out of place and connex vans tipped over.”

Tonuchuk said he was in his boat when the weather moved in.

“When I saw what was coming in, I decided to stay in my boat all night, and watch my boat, so it didn’t get crushed or flooded,” he said. “I knew my boat would be useful to us that night.”

That feeling proved prescient: Tonuchuk was able to save lives with his boat.

“We ended up evacuating some folks from their homes near the river … and brought them to the school for shelter,” he said.

Tonuchuk said after the storm passed, and on into Tuesday, it was difficult to get around Kotlik, with boardwalks covered in ice that made walking and driving troublesome. Heat and water remained in short supply.

“People don’t have places to go,” he said. “They don’t have anywhere warm to go, they don’t have any heating appliances and no water. It’s very frightening to have something like this – flooding in the communities — especially when winter is here.”

Other Norton Sound communities were also hit hard by the storms: Stebbins, Unalakleet, Shaktoolik and more all experienced damage, power and water outages.

In Stebbins, sea ice and flooding washed out homes, boats, fish racks and camps along the beach. More than 200 people sought refuge in the community school after a forklift loader drove around town and brought people to safety.

Elsewhere, there was similar destruction.

“Unalakleet has lost its water system,” said Matt Ganley, vice president of resources and external affairs at Bering Straits Native Corporation. “They have a very long pipe that supplies water to the community that was blown out.”

Unalakleet City Manager Scott Dickens said that waterline ran parallel to the coastline. Erosion from the storm ate away at that coastline, taking the piping with it. Dickens said Unalakleet’s one million gallon water tank ensured there were several hundred thousand gallons in reserve.

The bigger problem, Dickens said, was the temporary berm that protected homes from the water. That was washed away by the storm.

Ganley said the water line in Unalakleet was already repaired once over the summer. Additional Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants the community had applied for had yet to be approved.

“This storm has compounded a problem that had already been impacted from previous storms,” Ganley said.

North in Shaktoolik, a natural driftwood barrier was brought into the community by the storms.

“They’ve had driftwood in the fall that sets in and protects the area from this type of activity, but that driftwood seawall has been blown up into the village,” Ganley said. “It’s not going to afford any protection in the future.”

Ganley said communities in the region are looking for the state to move forward swiftly with repairs and assessments.

“I think there’s still a lot to be determined about the extent of the damage … we hope to be contacting the governor’s office shortly and requesting a disaster declaration for those cities on the coast,” he said.

Kotlik had already made a disaster declaration, Ganley said. Stebbins and Unalakleet would likely declare soon as well.

“I think we need to look at the infrastructure impacts, because that’s what’s going to impact people long term in these communities,” he said.

With supply lines “tenuous” in rural areas, Ganley said, time — and worsening weather — are working against relief efforts.

“Snow will be falling [soon] and it’s going to be really difficult to determine what the impacts have been if there’s a good snow cover,” he said. If evaluations aren’t done before the spring, “it pushes any efforts and any relief they may get for infrastructure that much further ahead, and may put us into next year’s storm system.”

The damage was still shaking Tonuchuk on Tuesday.

“Never in my life did I [think] I would do something like that and see something that devastating to our community,” he said.

The state Division of Emergency Management said it’s focused on “life safety needs,” putting damage assessment and repairs on hold. That’s as the National Weather Services forecasts another violent winter storm for the region as early as Wednesday.

Donations for Kotlik are currently being collected through the Red Cross of Alaska.

Latest Stories

  • Lifestyle

    Alaska Natives discuss what ‘Eskimo’ means to them

    by Charles Enoch / KYUK on Feb 07, 11:19

    This story originates from KYUK Public Media and was published with permission.  BETHEL — After Alaska Airlines unveiled a new look for their airplanes and website many Alaska Natives took offense to a phrase in their new marketing campaign. The phrase has sparked a controversy and a new round of conversations about what the word “Eskimo” means […]

  • News

    AST: Snowmobile crash seriously injures Houston man

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Feb 07, 10:32

    A 29-year-old Houston resident was seriously injured in a snowmobile crash on Saturday night, Alaska State Troopers say. Troopers responded to Backhaus Street in Houston at 11:38 p.m. after being notified of a collision, according to an online dispatch. They found Nickolas Eull, who had been riding his Ski Doo snowmobile when it struck an […]

  • Lifestyle

    Angoon officials worry about mercury in subsistence foods

    by Associated Press on Feb 07, 9:50

    The city and tribal government of Angoon want state health officials to look into mercury levels in seals and other subsistence foods near Hawk Inlet. KTOO-FM reports Angoon officials warned residents not to gather food from west Admiralty Island. Researchers have spotted high mercury levels in a seal that was shared in the village, as […]

  • Sports

    Super Bowl fans flock for an NFL Experience

    by Dave Goldman on Feb 07, 9:39

      SANTA FRANCISCO, Calif. — There’s no denying the popularity of the National Football League. It’s been on full display all week at the NFL Experience, which combines the history of the league with fan interaction. Think of it as “old school” meets modern day. The Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco is the center […]

  • News

    Eagle River residents discuss proposed marijuana ordinances

    by Eric Ruble on Feb 06, 18:08

      ANCHORAGE — On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly will be voting on ordinances outlining the zoning and licensing codes marijuana businesses will have to follow. Given the complexity of the issue, Assembly member Amy Demboski hosted a town hall in Eagle River on Saturday to discuss the topic with her constituents. In 2014, most voters […]

  • News

    Seoul: North Korea fires rocket seen as covert missile test

    by Associated Press on Feb 06, 17:58

    North Korea on Sunday defied international warnings and launched a long-range rocket that the United Nations and others call a cover for a banned test of technology for a missile that could strike the U.S. mainland. The rocket was fired from North Korea’s west coast and tracked separately by the governments Japan and South Korea, which immediately convened […]

  • News

    40 years later: AFD officials honor the memory of fireman killed in fire

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Feb 06, 17:38

      ANCHORAGE — On Feb. 6, 1976, a fire broke out at the Bi-Lo Supermarket on Muldoon Road just after midnight. Anchorage Fire Department Engine 6 was the first unit to arrive at the scene and included 23-year-old firefighter Charles “Chuck” Whitethorn, according to AFD. The fire was upgraded and other fire teams from AFD […]

  • News

    Bethel businesses submit new round of liquor license applications

    by Anna Rose MacArthur/KYUK on Feb 06, 13:41

    This story originates from KYUK Public Media and was published with permission.  BETHEL — The Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is considering two liquor license applications for Bethel next week: one for a package liquor store for Bethel Native Corporation’s subsidiary Bethel Spirits LLC and another for Fili’s Pizza restaurant. BNC has reapplied for a license but at a […]