State emergency mangers and the American Red Cross of Alaska are planning a trip to St. Lawrence Island to asses the damage from severe winter weather last week.


While bangs from New Year’s Eve fireworks were heard across the world Saturday night, western Alaska residents heard the bangs of windows breaking and roofs being torn off.


A blizzard warning was in effect for the Bering Straight coast and St. Lawrence Island for four days, with winter storm warnings in effect for most of the northwest coast and Interior.


The most significant damage appears to be in Savoonga, where some of the highest winds were recorded.




Savoonga is located about 160 miles west of Nome on St. Lawrence Island. The winds first reached 60 mph on Dec. 29. High winds continued off and on through Dec. 31, but the highest winds were recorded on New Year’s Eve from noon until 11 p.m. when the wind consistently gusted over 60 mph, including several hours with hurricane force winds and a peak of 81 mph at 5:30 p.m.


In addition to the high winds, snow and rain fell for most of that time as well, causing very low visibility.


The high winds caused damage to many homes and structures, forcing residents to evacuate to the school for the night. Jeremy Zidek, information officer for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said up to 117 people took advantage of the shelter that night.


Courtesy City of Savoonga

Courtesy City of Savoonga


Thirty homes sustained damage to roofs made of metal or rubber, Zidek said. Part of a wall was torn off one home.


Power and phone lines were also damaged during the storm. Zidek said linemen arrived in Savoonga Tuesday and were working to restore power to five homes while checking the strength of the entire system.


In their daily situation report, the division said the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) was activated to a level 2 to determine the impacts of the storms affecting western Alaska.


The mayor of Savoonga, Myron Kingeekuk, was born and raised in Savoonga and has spent the last several days assessing the damage and coordinating with state officials. He’s issued a verbal emergency declaration and is requesting the state issue a written emergency disaster declaration for assistance.


Zidek said his agency plans to send two emergency managers to the area later this week to survey the damage. Two members from the Red Cross will also visit the island this week.


The Food Bank of Alaska has reached out to their food distribution partner in Savoonga. Food is available through the Emergency Food Assistance Program should they need it.


The SEOC said it will continue to survey all coastal communities between Tununak in the Bethel Census Area and Kivalina, up in the Northwest Arctic Borough.


Winter storm warnings continued Wednesday for St. Lawrence Island and much of the northwest coast. Blizzard warnings continued for most of the Brooks Range and North Slope through Thursday as strong winter storms continue to hit the area.


KTVA 11’s Melissa Frey can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.