Dignitaries tour Nome, Golovin
By Peter Loewi
Members of the Alaska Congressional delegation toured the region with state and federal officials last weekend, including Deanne Criswell, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Mary Peltola were joined by Administrator Criswell, Region 10 Administrator Willie Nunn, U.S. Coast Guard District 17 Commander Rear Admiral Nathan Moore, Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Bryan Fisher and staff from a host of government agencies.
Many of those had already been on the ground since the storm hit a week prior, but Criswell’s daytrip prompted a tour to visit destroyed fish camps, a public meeting to hear community concerns and an impromptu drop into Golovin.
Following lunch with Nome’s emergency responders, the delegation was driven by Bering Straits Native Corporation’s Larry Pederson and Kawerak’s Melanie Bahnke to Fort Davis to survey the damage done to the camps and the coastal erosion. Koonuk Angusuc and John Walluk were out cleaning up and were asked about the impact. They said they lost salmon and beluga nets, hunting gear, and drying racks, in addition to damage to the camps.
“Have you ever had a storm like this,” Criswell asked?
“Never,” replied Angusuc.
There were two scheduled listening sessions. The first was a teleconference with tribal leaders from communities spanning from Bethel to Kotzebue. The second was open to the public and held at Old St. Joe’s in Nome. The teleconference was impacted by technical difficulties and the public meeting was cut short by the decision to fly to Golovin. The meeting in Nome was standing room only, but many were unable to ask their questions directly. Staff from the agencies stayed behind to answer further questions.
In both meetings, communities asked about the recovery process, both for the tangible and the intangible. Fisher, from the State, explained that subsistence equipment is included in recovery programs, calling a drying rack an extension of the kitchen. One winter and one summer vehicle can be included, as well as lost heating fuel. The bad news, however, is that there is a financial cap. For the State, it is $18,950 to fix and another $18,950 to furnish. FEMA’s program mirrors the state’s, but the caps are twice that, $37,900 for each category. There is a 60-day deadline to file applications, but that can be expanded. Willie Nunn, FEMA’s Region 10 administrator, said he wasn’t worried about that part of the process.
In order to get that money, people who lost things or had property damaged must extensively document the damages. Criswell acknowledged that every individual is unique, so agencies understand and will work with people as documentation might look a little different for everyone. Both the state and FEMA disaster assistance programs are currently open, and the state will be sending people into communities to assist with that process. Bahnke also suggested that tribal coordinators be trained to file the applications, as well.
The question of erosion and disappearing Native allotments came up repeatedly, but there was no clear answer. Similarly, preparing for the next storm was on everyone’s mind. To get a picture of the situation a week after the storm, the delegation made a very brief stop in Golovin, courtesy of an Alaska National Guard Chinook helicopter which had been repurposed from Special Operations Forces training on St. Lawrence Island.
The direct flight path allowed for observation of the damage to the Nome-Council Highway, a new channel cut by the storm into Safety Lagoon and the cleanup efforts people were undertaking to return boats and items washed across the water. After a cold, gray tour of Nome, the sun came out as the helicopter landed in Golovin, creating a surreal scene of blue skies, calm winds and sand having swallowed up houses and vehicles.
State Senator Donny Olson met the delegation, and drove them to the beach, avoiding several houses that were still in the middle of the road after floating off their pilings. Murkowski had been there earlier in the week and remarked how much progress had been made so quickly.
The delegation had flown to Nome on a USCG C-130 Hercules aircraft, and citing crew flight hour limitations, less than half an hour after touching down in Golovin, they were whisked away, back to Nome to make their flight back to Anchorage. Criswell and staff were headed to Florida for another storm.