• 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

  • News

    First snow keeps Anchorage tire shops busy with winter changeover

    by Heather Hintze on Oct 21, 16:21

    The first sign of winter brought in big business for Johnson’s Tire Service when many people awoke to snow on Friday morning and realized they still had summer tires on their vehicles. “It’s a little insane,” said Johnson’s manager Michael Hagler. “It’s a whole ‘nother monster to work in a tire shop in changeover season.” […]

  • DJ Spencer Lee’s Holiday Pajama Jam: A party for the whole family

    by Daybreak Staff on Oct 21, 15:41

    Looking trip the light fantastic with the whole family — in your pajamas? DJ Spencer Lee has you covered with his Holiday Pajama Jam. The event is part of his popular series of Baby Loves Disco events and he will be joined by Victamone. Holiday Pajama Jam Sunday, December 4 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Williwaw […]

  • Grand jury formally indicts man accused of shooting Fairbanks officer

    by Associated Press on Oct 21, 15:16

    The man accused of shooting a Fairbanks police officer has been formally indicted by a grand jury. Fairbanks District Attorney Gregg Olson says the grand jury indicted Anthony G. Jenkins-Alexie Thursday with attempted murder and seven other counts. Seven charges are identical to the counts originally charged in a complaint against Jenkins-Alexie, plus one additional […]

  • Police arrest teen for Friday morning Fred Meyer robbery

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Oct 21, 13:33

    Anchorage police say the community came together to help officers arrest a teen who threatened a store clerk at Fred Meyer and then stole multiple firearms. In a Friday afternoon release, the Anchorage Police Department stated just after 9:46 a.m. Friday they received multiple calls about someone threatening a Fred Meyer gun counter employee at […]

  • Nominate a breast cancer survivor to ‘Get Pampered Pink’ on Oct. 26

    by Daybreak Staff on Oct 21, 12:40

    In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, KTVA 11’s Daybreak is partnering with Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall to honor and celebrate those in the community who have battled the disease. We’re giving you the chance to nominate someone special in your life to win a free makeover. Chemotherapy, radiation and other cancer treatments can take a […]

  • News

    Murkowski talks energy costs, brings AFN attendees to their feet

    by Megan Edge on Oct 21, 12:06

    Lowering rural energy costs is one of US Senator Lisa Murkowski’s “top priorities,” she said at a mid-morning address to Alaska Federation of Natives attendees. The crowd of convention-goers shouted and cheered quietly, as she spoke of an Aniak foster mother who was caught between paying her home heating bill and formula for the baby […]

  • Weather

    Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau record first measurable snowfall in same week

    by Rachael Penton on Oct 21, 11:47

    This week was one of transition for weather across Alaska, with Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau all recording the first measurable snowfalls of the year. Winter weather in Southeast Alaska began last Sunday, with a widespread early snowfall across the panhandle. The Juneau International Airport recorded 5.1 inches of snow on Sunday, a new daily record. […]

  • Lifestyle

    Many U.S. websites disrupted as firm gets hit by cyberattack

    by CBS/AP on Oct 21, 10:28

    Last Updated Oct 21, 2016 2:13 PM EDT Twitter experienced renewed outages Friday afternoon following hours of internet disruption that took down numerous sites earlier in the morning across the U.S. East Coast. A wave of reports of problems accessing many popular websites came after the servers at a major internet management firm were hit by a […]