Worst of Alaska storm over but more surges expected
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The worst was over on Thursday for an "epic" winter storm that pounded Alaska's west coast with wind and snow and left one man missing after a 10-foot surge of seawater into Nome, officials said.
The storm, considered the strongest to hit western Alaska in several decades, has largely moved northwest toward the Russian Arctic, said Don Moore, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
A second, smaller Bering Sea storm is now brewing, and will send additional surges into the coastal towns and villages during high tide later in the day, said Moore, who has been working at the state's emergency operations center.
The surges will not be as dramatic as those from the first storm but could cause more flooding, he said.
"If the water levels were not elevated from the storm that had just passed, this other storm would not be a major issue," he said. "Once this passes off, this is when we'll see conditions start returning to normal."
One person was missing in the storm. Authorities in Teller, a small community north of Nome, were searching Thursday for 26-year-old Kyle Komok, said the Alaska State Troopers.
Komok was last seen Wednesday evening driving a four-wheel vehicle toward a small local jetty, trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
At the time, waves eight to 10 feet high were hitting the local seawall, Peters said.
With the second storm brewing, coastal flood warnings remained in place Thursday for the Nome area south to the mouth of the Yukon River. But the National Weather Service Thursday dropped the flood warnings for other parts of western Alaska.
Flood warnings had been lifted for southwestern areas, though a third storm, a more typical southwestern-moving Bering Sea weather event, was forecast to bring strong winds to that part of the state over the weekend.
'NOT OUT OF THE WOODS'
The just-passed storm sent a 10-foot surge of seawater into Nome, Moore said. The record storm surge in Nome, a former Gold Rush boomtown famous today as the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, is 13.2 feet, set in a 1974 storm that meteorologists likened to this year's event, he said.
Officials had called it a "storm of epic proportions."
Along with the large amounts of seawater rushing into communities, the storm brought winds reported as high as about 90 miles an hour, blowing snow and whiteout conditions.
Communities in the area -- regional hubs like Nome, with a population of 3,600, and smaller Native villages -- have reported flooding, building damage, power outages and other problems, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
In many of the sites, residents evacuated their homes to stay in local shelters set up at schools and other buildings, he said. The biggest group sheltered was in the Inupiat Eskimo village Point Hope, where 450 of the approximately 675 residents spent the night together.
"This area is used to severe weather and people know what to do," Zidek said. There was also little travel going on when the storm hit, he added. "People just hunkered down," he said.
Governor Sean Parnell, in a statement, praised local leaders.
"The storm is almost finished, but we are not out of the woods yet," he said.
Property losses include two containers of construction equipment washed out to sea at Diomede, the Native village on Little Diomede Island in the Bering Strait, Zidek said.
Special attention was also being paid to a cemetery in Wales, a mainland Inupiat village close to Russia, where a cemetery holding the remains of 1918 influenza victims was considered vulnerable to flooding and erosion, he said.
Moore said one aspect of damage is expected to be more erosion in Native villages that have already been coping with an accelerated loss of coastline.
In Kivalina, an Inupiat village planning to move its entire community inland to escape the erosion, the storm surge was measured at about 5.5 feet, enough to cause serious erosion in a coastal area that lacks a protective seawall, he said.
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