Kotlik Residents Recover from One Storm, Brace for Another
Western Alaska village makes progress in repairing sewage and water systems
A village along the Yukon River in Western Alaska is simultaneously recovering from a weekend storm and bracing for another severe weather system.
Kotlik has already been damaged by severe flooding: several houses were destroyed, and so were the sewage and water systems.
School officials said Tuesday afternoon the sewage system was working for about half of the village, but the school's instructor said ice slabs damaged the utility corridor in many places.
David Harris, the instructor, said the school's outdoor basketball court was lifted and carried about 500 feet from its original location and came to rest atop the sewage system's pipes.
"When the sun rose the next morning, it was quite incredible, the sight you could see along the boardwalk," Harris said.
Harris said the city's water tank that holds 125,000 gallons was intact, but the large water pump attached to the tank was carried away by the flood.
Many pipes were broken along the boardwalk.
"It looked like a series of bombs had gone off," Harris said. "What that actually was was debris that had gathered and built up."
Kotlik's main modes of transportation include all-terrain vehicles, snowmachines, boats and walking. There are no cars or trucks.
Of the village's 600 residents, nearly half stayed at the school overnight Tuesday because returning home was not an option.
"We cannot provide restrooms for them, but we can provide shelter," Harris said. "We're going to try to feed them the best we can."
Harris said journalist Jeanie Greene of Heartbeat Alaska donated 15 Butterball turkeys through the A.C. store in Kotlik.
Harris said they were defrosting Tuesday afternoon, and the plan was to cook them Wednesday for people staying overnight at the school.
Local stores have made donations, and Harris said other outside sources like schools in Florida are holding rallies to raise money to purchase water for the village from an Anchorage store.
Paul Mike is a Kotlik resident who has lived in the village his entire life. He said weather conditions deteriorated Saturday. That is when he watched flooding patterns like nothing he had seen before.
"Overnight, water had gone over the boardwalks, and the next thing we see is icebergs coming in," he said.
Giant slabs of ice that were carried by river water moved several boats area far from their original anchor points in the slough. One traveled fall the way next to the air strip where it still rests.
While residents were pleased by progress on the water and sewage systems, they also buckled down for more potential flooding.
Weather conditions are expected to deteriorate by Wednesday night.
"It's best right now to get prepared, get food ready, clothing just in case you need to evacuate to higher grounds," Mike said.
Harris said Tuesday evening at a meeting in the school gymnasium that water was functioning throughout the building, but in anticipation of the severe storm, it would likely be turned off Wednesday as a precautionary step.
Harris said fixing the damage already done could take anywhere from a couple weeks to next summer.
"We are a community, we have to stick together," Harris said. "We're in this together and so far everybody's been very strong."
(Copyright © 2013, KTUU-TV)