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Winter storm ravages coastal communities

By Kirsten Swann 1:33 AM November 11, 2013

Families rally on behalf of Western Alaska towns devastated by flooding, high winds

ANCHORAGE – When a winter storm smashed into the coast of Western Alaska over the weekend, the surging water breached roads and broke through sewage lines.

Communication was cut off. Food supplies were destroyed. Homes were flooded.

Monday evening, a handful of Alaskans stood in the snow on an Anchorage street corner, waving homemade signs and trying to draw attention to the plight of their friends and relatives in communities across the state’s western coast. Wendy Shipton, one of the rally’s organizers, is a St. Michael native whose family ties range from Unalakleet to Kotlik and Stebbins.

She said the tidal surge broke sewage lines in Stebbins, flooding homes and sidewalks. Some residents waded through the icy sewage in search of help. There was none to be found.

Allen Sagoonick, who’s lived in Unalakleet for most of his life, described the raging waves that struck the seaside village Sunday. He said many residents abandoned their homes to flee for higher ground, and the flooding took out electrical power to the town’s fresh water pump house.

“The other villages that do not have high ground to move to are the places that will really be in trouble,” he said.

Sagoonick said Unalakleet was used to winter flooding: The town’s distinct topography was testament to the waves that occasionally surged through town.

“But at the same time, what’s built by the ocean can be taken by the ocean,” he said.

Other coastal communities face the same plight.

Shipton said she was trying to spread the word about Western Alaska’s winter woes. While headlines were dominated by news of Typhoon Haiyan’s destruction in the Philippines, she said she hoped Alaskans would lend a helping hand to their own neighbors affected by the same weather pattern.

Standing on an Anchorage street corner Monday, holding a poster board sign entreating passing drivers to send water and food to Kotlik, Shipton said she felt helpless.

“My son has family in the Philippines and I’m praying for them, but we want to avoid casualties on our own land,” she said. “It’s hard because nobody’s listening, and it’s hard to get the message out.”

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