Alaskans flee flooding as powerful storm hits state

A powerful storm headed north across the Bering Strait on Saturday and caused widespread flooding in several coastal communities in western Alaska, knocking out power and sending residents fleeing to higher ground.

The force of the water pushed some houses off their foundations, and one of the houses in my dream was floating on the river until it got caught on a bridge.

The storm is the remnant of Hurricane Meirbuck, a storm that is also affecting weather patterns as far away as California, where high winds and a rare late-summer rainstorm are expected.

Jeremy Zedek, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said there were no reports of injuries or deaths from the storm in Alaska. Authorities warned communities that some places could experience the worst flooding in 50 years and that the waters could take up to 14 hours to recede.

On Saturday, Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration for the affected communities.

Golovin was among the hardest hit, with most of the town’s 170 or so residents taking shelter in the school or in three buildings on a hillside. Winds in the area blew 95 kilometers per hour and the water level was 3.35 meters above the normal tide line and is expected to rise another 61 centimeters on Saturday before reaching the summit.

“Most of the lower part of the community has been inundated with buildings and structures,” said Ed Plumb, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

Clarabel Lewis, a facilities manager for the local tribal government, was among those who took refuge on the hill overlooking Golovin. She and others were weathering a storm at the tribal office after sheltering things in their homes from the wind and helping their neighbors do the same.

“The wind was howling, it was strong,” he said.

Louis had never experienced a storm like this in the twenty years he had lived in Golovin.

“We’ve had flooding in the past a couple of times, but it’s never been this bad,” he said. “We have not moved our houses from their foundations.”

Plumb said there were also reports of flooding in Hooper Bay, St. Michael’s, Onalaklet and Shktulik, with waves crashing over the berm in front of the community.

People walk through floodwaters just a half block from the Bering Sea in Nome on Saturday. (Peggy Fagerstrom/The Associated Press)

He said the storm will cross the Bering Strait on Saturday and then head into the Chukchi Sea.

“Then it heads into a park of sorts and weakens west of Point Hope,” he said of the community on Alaska’s northwest coast.

He said there will be a rise in the water in the nearby North Bering Sea through Saturday night before it starts to calm down through Sunday. Water levels will continue to rise in the far north, in the Chukchi Sea and Kotzebue Sound regions through Sunday.

Driven by strong winds, water rushes from the Bering Sea into the backyard of a home in Nom on Saturday. (Peggy Fagerstrom/The Associated Press)