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Severe storm expected to cause widespread erosion along western Alaska coast

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Posted: Monday, November 7, 2011 8:18 pm | Updated: 1:31 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

For updates, visit the National Weather Service.

FAIRBANKS - A severe storm along Alaska’s western coastline could cause flooding in the northwest Alaska village of Kivalina, according to the National Weather Service.

“A once in 30-50 year storm is due to arrive in the north Bering Sea late Tuesday,” said Ted Fathauer with the service’s Fairbanks office.

The region hasn’t seen a storm this severe since 1974. The early stages of the storm came into view late Saturday evening after a low-pressure system crossed over Japan into the Pacific Ocean, Fathauer said. Since then, it has gathered speed and strength. Winds could exceed 55 mph with gusts of 70 mph accompanied by a 3-foot storm surge. Waves of 20-25 feet are expected in the Chukchi and Bering seas.

“Once a coastal flood watch is formulated, every coastal settlement in the area will be notified, whatever it takes,” said Fathauer.

Kivalina, with about 400 residents, rests on a spit of land jutting into the Chukchi Sea.

Without slush ice to protect the spit in recent years, early winter storms have eaten away the beach. In 2007, residents were voluntarily evacuated due to a flood warning.

Kivalina residents have attempted to protect the beach with sandbags, metal sheets and even half of a DC-3 airplane. A rock wall is now in place.

“The rock revetment has not been fully tested, but I’m fully confident it will hold,” said Kivalina Mayor Thomas Hanifan Jr.

Kivalina residents have been notified of the flood warning via VHF radio. Hanifan said an evacuation is not planned. Residents will take shelter in the local school if necessary, he said. The school is the highest building in town.

“We are making sure anything that is loose is being tied down,” said Hanifan. “There’s not much we can do.”

Contact Molly Lane at 459-7582.

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