FEMA administrator to travel to Alaska as state races to address storm damage

Alaska state officials have so far counted 89 residential buildings badly affected by a storm that hit western Alaska over the weekend, but a full damage estimate will not be available. available for days, according to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who visited the area earlier. during the week.

The remnants of the Pacific Typhoon Merbok that hit western Alaska from Saturday destroyed roads, toppled homes, leveled subsistence cabins and scattered debris across 1,000 miles of coastline.

Dunleavy said during a briefing Thursday that it was too early to provide an estimate of the storm damage costs, at least in part because community members, local governments and state agencies are assessing always the extent of the destruction.

“We anticipate that we will find things that no one has seen yet that need to be worked on, so these estimates will likely stretch into the future,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy has requested that a federal disaster be declared for the area to aid in recovery efforts before the fast approaching winter freeze. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell is due to arrive in Alaska on Friday, directly from a trip to Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Fiona has caused widespread devastation. Criswell is scheduled to travel to the affected area of ​​western Alaska over the weekend.

[‘Some of them just disappeared’: Essential pieces of life in Nome were lost in the storm]

Dunleavy has already requested $10 million in state emergency funds to begin meeting immediate needs. In 2011, $30 million in federal disaster funds were sent to Alaska to help with triage repairs. The Dunleavy administration expects the costs of this event to exceed that.

The governor traveled earlier in the week to Bethel, Newtok, Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Nome, Golovin, Elim and Koyuk with other state officials to assess damage as the storm subsided. He said on Thursday he planned to return to the area on October 1 to assess the progress of repairs.

[In the midst of the storm, a dash to keep the power on in Hooper Bay]

About 130 members of the Alaska National Guard, State Defense Forces and Naval Militia have deployed to the area, according to the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Commissioner, the Major General Torrence Saxony. They are responsible for removing debris and communicating with community members to understand their needs, Saxe said.

Among the most severe damage identified so far by state officials are destroyed sections of road between Nome and the Council, and roads in Elim, Golovin and Nome.

Ryan Anderson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation, said Thursday that on the Nome-Council highway, the department estimates that 5 to 10 miles have been “completely erased” and an additional 5 to 10 miles have “heavy damage “. In Golovin, about five kilometers were “washed away” and in Elim, Front Street was “completely destroyed”.

Anderson said all airports in the region are operational. Some Federal Aviation Administration weather systems are damaged, and the Alaska Department of Transportation is working with the FAA to restore them to service, according to Anderson.

State disaster programs focus on “immediately getting things like plywood, insulation, tin for roofs to communities,” even as the state awaits a response from the federal government on a request for a disaster declaration, according to the Alaska Division of Homeland Security. and Emergency Management Director Bryan Fisher.

“It’s a separate program happening immediately to make sure we can close homes and make sure residents have a safe, warm place before winter hits,” Fisher said.

[Dunleavy requests federal disaster declaration for Western Alaska as reports of storm damage accumulate]

If a federal disaster is declared, FEMA typically covers 75% of response costs. Dunleavy requested that 100% of the costs be covered. President Joe Biden has already approved a similar request for Puerto Rico’s reconstruction effort.

Dunleavy said state agencies are operating within four weeks to meet immediate needs with the impending winter freeze, including transporting thousands of pounds of food and water to replace lost or damaged supplies in several communities, repairing roads and bridges, removing debris, and putting homes back on their foundations.

“It’s really about getting everything in place and running and getting ready for winter,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy also said he spoke by phone Thursday with the director of the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas.

“I just said to him, ‘Look, the damage may not be as extensive as in Puerto Rico or some of the other places where we have hurricanes, but it’s our timing that’s the problem, that’ is our remoteness that’s the problem, it’s our lack of the infrastructure that’s the problem,” Dunleavy said. “We just have to make sure we’re not going to be bureaucratic when it comes to helping and get people moving over the next four weeks.”

Some of the damaged and lost buildings were subsistence shacks – some built over the years and lacking insurance or the paperwork typically used to obtain reconstruction assistance.

“We will have discussions with the federal government and others about how this is part of the food collection system for people there. So we will try to do everything in our power to bring people together at all levels,” Dunleavy said.

The Federation of Alaska Natives earlier this week sent letters to Biden, the Alaska congressional delegation, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and Dunleavy regarding the storm response and its impacts. disasters in more than 100 villages in western Alaska affected by the typhoon.

In a letter to Biden, AFN President Julie Kitka wrote that several communities have no clean water and others have no place to dispose of human waste.

“Your policies on building resilience and environmental justice and supportive adaptation are uniquely tested by the impacts of this super storm,” Kitka wrote to the president, urging his administration to work with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. and the Association of Alaska Housing Authority. on water, sanitation and housing.

In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, Kitka requested a three-month extension to grant compliance deadlines. Many tribes depend on federal grants to meet basic community needs. She also asked for a four-week extension for tribes to apply for new grants, including for broadband projects made available through the recently passed infrastructure bill.

“We realize this is a downside for the agencies involved, but the alternative is that nearly half of the tribes in the United States are left behind and unable to participate in these historic opportunities,” Kitka wrote.

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[Read the letter from the Alaska Federation of Natives to President Biden]

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