A powerful storm travelling north through the Bering Strait on Saturday caused widespread flooding in several western Alaska coastal communities, knocking out power and sending residents fleeing for higher ground.
The force of the water moved some homes off their foundations, and one house in Nome was floating down a river until it got caught at a bridge.
The storm is what remains of Typhoon Merbok, a storm that is also influencing weather patterns as far away as California, where strong winds and a rare late-summer rainstorm were expected.
In Alaska, there have been no reports of injuries or deaths from the storm, said Jeremy Zidek, spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Officials had warned communities that some places could see the worst flooding in 50 years and water could take up to 14 hours to recede.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Saturday issued a disaster declaration for impacted communities.
Just now, I verbally declared a disaster for communities impacted by the west cost storm. SEOC has received no reports of injuries at this time. We will continue to monitor the storm and update Alaskans as much as possible.
Among the hardest hit was Golovin, where most of the village’s 170 or so residents either took shelter at the school or in three buildings on a hillside. Winds in the area were gusting over 95 kilometres per hour and the water level was 3.35 metres above the normal high tide line and was expected to rise another 61 centimetres Saturday before cresting.
“Most of the lower part of the community is all flooded with structures and buildings inundated,” said Ed Plumb, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
Clarabelle Lewis, the facility manager for the local tribal government, was among those who sought refuge on the hill overlooking Golovin. She and others were riding out the storm in the tribal office after securing items at their homes from the winds and helping their neighbours do the same.
“The winds were howling; it was noisy,” she said.
Major flooding in Golovin this morning. Water is still expected to rise 1-2 feet by this afternoon Our thoughts are with the community. (photos courtesy C. Lewis) <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/akwx?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#akwx</a> <a href=”https://t.co/BO63uN8dGL”>pic.twitter.com/BO63uN8dGL</a>
Lewis has never experienced a storm like this in the 20 years she’s lived in Golovin.
“We’ve had flooding in the past a few times, but it was never this severe,” she said. “We’ve never had homes moved from their foundations.”
There were also reports of flooding in Hooper Bay, St. Michael’s, Unalakleet and Shaktoolik, where waves broke over the berm in front of the community, Plumb said.
He said the storm will track through the Bering Strait on Saturday and then head into the Chukchi Sea.
“And then it’s going to kind of park and weaken just west of Point Hope,” he said of of the community on Alaska’s northwest coast.
He said there would be high water in the northern Bering Sea vicinity through Saturday night before starting to subside through Sunday. Rising water levels farther north, in the Chukchi Sea and Kotzebue Sound areas would persist into Sunday.