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Storms hit hard in Western Alaska

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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner opinion:

Ugly as the conditions have been in the Interior during the recent storms, we’ve been lucky compared to communities along the Bering Sea coast.

Flooding from the first storm began Sunday. Surges inundated low-lying villages from eastern Norton Sound south along much of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s coastline. High water was reported as far south as Tununak. More flooding was expected this morning. Peak surges of eight to nine feet were expected at 6 a.m. from Elim to Scammon Bay.

Since most villages in this region are partly or entirely built on ground that sits well within the reach of such surges, the flooding has been a significant problem.

For example, photographs posted online by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management show quite a mess in Kotlik, a village that sits a few miles inland, on one of the Yukon River’s northernmost braids near where it empties into the Bering Sea.

Ice and high water combined to damage Kotlik’s water plant, which had to shut down. Sewage lines also were damaged, so that system was shut down as well.

The American Red Cross of Alaska reported that more than 200 Kotlik residents evacuated their homes and took shelter in the school. The organization planned to send two workers with blankets, jugs of potable water, snacks and other items. The state Department of Health and Social Services sent two public health nurses to give flu shots.

Similar but less severe troubles were plaguing Unalakleet, on Norton Sound’s eastern shore. A water transmission pipe that supplies the village was uncovered by the storm erosion, and up to 600 feet were damaged. The village was able to repair the pipe and restart the system.

In Stebbins, midway between Unalakleet and Kotlik, several houses were pushed off their foundations by the high water. The state emergency management division said villagers had reported sewage floating through town because honey buckets had been washed away.

The State Emergency Operations Center said it had not received any requests for emergency help, although the Kotlik City Council officially declared a disaster. State personnel were assessing the damage and providing technical advice. The center was also working with the Red Cross.

The Red Cross asked that people not send items such as clothing and household goods to the villages.

“Red Cross and the state of Alaska will work together to ensure their immediate needs are being met with requested items and that the communities are not being inundated with unnecessary goods,” it said in a news release. “If you would like to help the people of Western Alaska affected by these storms, and other Alaskans facing emergencies every day, please make a financial gift at and donate to your local disaster relief fund.”

This is a bad time of year to be cold, wet and without good water and sewer systems. These communities will need some help.

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The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at Contact the editor with questions at or call 459-7574.

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