Coastal village escapes ire of Chukchi Sea storm

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A wind storm brewing on the Chukchi Sea on Thursday failed to become the destroyer feared by residents of a vulnerable village on Alaska's northwest coast.

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Residents and weather forecasters said thickening slushy ice along the shore of Shishmaref offered adequate protection, minimizing further damage to the eroding village. The winds, though gusting at 30 mph, were blowing south, offering less of a punch than if they had barreled in from the northwest.

At worst, there could be minor coastal flooding and erosion, said John Lingaas, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. But, he said, "this is not a severe situation for them."

Tony Weyiouanna, Shishmaref's transportation planner, agreed.

"Our tide didn't come up like predicted. We were lucky, this time around," he said. "It's good to be cautious and prepared."

Predictions Wednesday said the storm could generate waves of up to 12 feet and cause localized erosion along the northern coast of the Seward Peninsula with winds gusting up to 40 mph. On Thursday, sustained winds were in the 20-mph range and seas were expected to be no larger than 6 feet, Lingaas said.

The winds are expected to hold steady and die off by today, he said.

Residents of the island village about 600 miles northwest of Anchorage were bracing for the worst, hoping a rock seawall repaired last summer would hold up. The seawall offers protection to the main housing area, but it still isn't complete, Weyiouanna said.

Shishmaref is among Alaska's most eroded Native villages, and residents have pushed for relocation, but the exorbitant cost of such a massive project has kept that from becoming a reality.

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