Western Alaska residents clean up after coastal storm

ANCHORAGE — Western Alaska communities were cleaning up Monday after a powerful weekend storm brought icy flooding, with residents bracing for more storms expected to bring coastal surges and freezing rain.

The village of Kotlik was among the worst hit. The storm, pushing ice chunks to shore, damaged the water and sewer distribution system. An outdoor basketball court was moved 500 yards by rushing waters, school principal David Harris said Monday. His own house is 12 feet above ground on stilts, so it was not damaged, but if he had walked downstairs to the ground, he would have been chest high in water.

“The swiftness of the flooding, which I witnessed firsthand, was absolutely stunning,” he said.

Because the sewage transfer equipment was down, the school was closed Monday, with plans to reopen it by Wednesday. But the school is offering shelter to village elders as well as people whose homes were damaged or moved. Because of the sewage problem, however, people are resorting to “honey buckets,” 5-gallon pails lined with garbage bags.

In Unalakleet, several homes were damaged by surging sea waters Saturday, but there was no significant damage, the city administrator said. A 200-yard section of pipe carrying untreated water to the treatment plant was washed away or was damaged, said the administrator, Scott Dickens. Crews completed installing a temporary hose early Monday and plan to build a replacement line with spare arctic pipe to go through winter, Dickens said.

“We have water flowing into town right now,” he said Monday afternoon.

To help Kotlik with its water problem, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. was planning to send a team to the village to help put in a water purification system, according to Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service said much of the severe weather had subsided by Monday, but another storm was approaching the area.

Freezing rain is expected in the region, with coastal surges in the 7-foot range expected by Wednesday. Meteorologist Chris Cox said the weekend storm brought surges estimated as high as 12 feet.

The weekend storm affected a wide area of the coast, but Zidek said no injuries were immediately reported. There also were no immediate requests to the state for help, he said.

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