This house in Savoonga, on St. Lawrence Island, lost one entire wall in the recent winter storms that pummeled the western coastline. - courtesy of the city of Savoonga via the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

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Savoonga seeks state aid after storms

January 13th | Chris Klint, Jerzy Shedlock, Alaska Dispatch News Print this article   Email this article  

Alaska officials are traveling to the Bering Sea village of Savoonga to assess widespread damage done by hurricane-force winds during successive winter storms at the close of 2016, one of the initial steps in a potential state disaster declaration.

Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said two emergency managers will travel Thursday to the St. Lawrence Island community of about 725 people, roughly 165 miles west of Nome. Their visit, expected to last until Sunday, comes in response to a "verbal disaster declaration" Zidek said was issued by local authorities over the New Year's weekend.

"What we've heard from the community is that there were about 30 homes that were damaged by high winds," Zidek said. "Some of them have had some roofing material, whether that's rubber roofs or metal roofs, torn off. We've seen a photo of a building that had part of the roof and one wall torn off as well."

Savoonga's city hall and a local church also suffered roof damage during the storms, Zidek said. About half a dozen homes had lost power by Tuesday, prompting the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative to send two linemen for repairs.

The officials will also make a brief stop in Gambell, Savoonga's sister community on St. Lawrence Island. Gambell and other Western Alaska communities including Kotlik, Kotzebue, Shaktoolik and Teller, also reported storm damage, but Zidek said none have requested state assistance.

"So far, the reports we've gotten is that Savoonga was the hardest hit," Zidek said. "Usually with these storms, one hits and people have time to recover."

Don Aycock, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Fairbanks, said reports from Savoonga of 80 mph winds and local buildings "losing roofs" came in Saturday, during the second storm. The first storm system, which went on to blanket Fairbanks with about a foot of snow Thursday, hit Savoonga on Dec. 28 — but there were far fewer local reports of damage from it.

The Red Cross will also send representatives to Savoonga in the coming days and help assess logistics in the wake of the storms, Zidek said.

FEMA officials have been briefed on the situation and the Homeland Security team has been in touch with Kingeekuk, the Savoonga mayor, as he coordinates the city's disaster response.


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