Windstorm slams Arctic coast towns

70 mph winds rip roofs off buildings

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2000

BARROW -- A rare summer storm bringing winds of up to 70 mph struck the Arctic coast in Barrow on Thursday and was threatening the North Slope Borough's multi-million dollar offshore dredge.

As of Thursday evening, there were no reports of injuries, according to Eli Solomon of the Barrow Volunteer Search and Rescue. But the high winds blew roofs off buildings and seriously eroded the beach, Solomon said.

A summer storm of this magnitude is rare on the Arctic coast, occurring every 50 to 100 years, said Donovan Price of the National Weather Service in Barrow.

The wind storm whipped up seas to 20 feet across the coast, slamming the communities of Barrow, Wainwright and Point Lay, according to the weather service. Some snow and rain also fell sporadically over the treeless region.

The borough's state-of-the-art dredge, Qayuuttaq, was pulled from its moorings about half a mile off the coast of Barrow. It was wallowing against the beach in Browerville, the eastern half of the town, which is split into two communities by a large lagoon.

Solomon said there had been earlier fears that the dredge's tender, Nanuq, was lost to the surf. But the small vessel handled the heavy weather and made it around Point Barrow into sheltered water, Solomon said.

The road between Barrow and the former Naval Arctic Research Laboratory washed out in several spots, said Kelly Aiken of the borough Department of Municipal Services. The old laboratory complex about four miles outside of Barrow proper is now home to a community college, several businesses and the Arctic Research Facility.

As of Thursday evening, the large complex was not in danger, Aiken said. But the low-lying buildings in Barrow itself were threatened by the high surf.

Barrow's two boat ramps were washed out, and so was most of a 10-foot tall sea wall made of sandbags and sand that protected Barrow's waterfront roads, homes and businesses. Crews with heavy equipment were working to protect the buildings from the surf.

Airline flights into and out of Barrow were canceled, leaving 21 tourists and a couple dozen government and business people stranded.

``This could get real bad,'' Aiken said. ``We have two buses on standby to evacuate people''

Gary Quarles, a pilot with the North Slope Borough Search and Rescue, said he flew a helicopter to a sand island about 20 miles east of Point Barrow to rescue a woman who was conducting a research bird count.

``The flight was uneventful and she was successfully removed from the island,'' he said. ``The hard part, really, was starting the aircraft and shutting it down so that it wouldn't beat itself apart.''



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