Flooding, damage reported across western Alaska coastal communities in wake of historic, powerful storm

A former typhoon caused damaging winds, dangerous seas, and an extreme storm surge to the Aleutians and the western Alaska coast.
Sunshine returned to western Alaska as residents and officials continued to assess full scope of storm's damage.
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 11:14 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2022 at 5:43 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The damage and impacts from former Typhoon Merbok across western Alaska have been devastating and historic.

Sept. 20 - 10:35 p.m.

The state on Tuesday evening said a formal request for a federal disaster declaration has been submitted by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The letter from the governor, sent to President Joe Biden via the regional administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, points to severe damages sustained down about 1,300 miles of coastline along the west and northwest regions of Alaska. The request also asks the federal government to consider adjusting its coverage in this case, as costs of repairs, the state said, would otherwise be widely prohibitive, particularly when the only viable option for delivering new supplies and other resources is by air.

The storm that landed on the coast on Sept. 15 caused wind damage, flooding, erosion and more in about 40 cities and villages, the letter stated, including impacts to and destruction of homes and personal property, public roads and bridges, public facilities, coast protection, air strips, power supply, and life safety. About 500 people took shelter in community centers while an unknown number sheltered in place, according to the state’s most recent estimate, and the storm left at least 69 homes and 28 other structures in ruins, with more expected to be reported in the coming weeks.

Dunleavy said in a prepared statement sent out by his office Tuesday night that he has no doubts the efforts of local and tribal leaders, particularly in preparing communities, minimized damage and likely saved lives.

“As things begin to stabilize, we can look towards recovery,” Dunleavy said. “For some, the road ahead will be challenging. However, I have committed the state to use every available disaster recovery program to its fullest extent to help these Alaskans.”

In his request, Dunleavy asked that the federal government specifically include the Bering Strait, Lower Yukon, Lower Kuskokwim, and Kashunamiut Regional Educational Attendance Areas in its declaration. The state typically covers 25 percent of costs for events that receive presidential disaster declarations, the letter said, and state disaster costs over the past decade have surpassed $163 million.

“In order to support the needs of these Alaskans, I request that you address the cost-share for this disaster to 100 percent federal, as was done for the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said. “The actual costs of this disaster have not been quantified, but are expected to be substantial... A timely disaster declaration that includes the requested resources is essential to ensure the life, health and safety of affected disaster survivors.”

Sept. 19 - 7:15 p.m.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy stated this evening that he will request a Federal Disaster Declaration for the storm-affected area on the west coast of Alaska.

State, local and regional entities, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are currently conducting damage assessments in the area.

“I will be submitting a request for federal assistance as soon as we gather the necessary information,” said Gov. Dunleavy through a press release. “If approved, at least 75% of eligible disaster costs would be covered by FEMA, with the state picking up the tab for the rest.”

The governor is currently in Bethel to assess the aftermath firsthand.

Sept. 19 - 5:45 p.m.

Residents near Nome surveyed the damage Monday after the storm formed by the remnants of Typhoon Merbok moved through.

Residents survey damage near Nome after historic storm

Sept. 19 - 10:45 a.m.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveiled plans in a press conference held Sunday that included state officials allocating resources to western Alaska communities in the coming days. Read the full story here: State shares details on response, recovery plans for west coast storm

The governor is expected to tour impacted communities on Monday.

Sept. 18 - 11:55 p.m.

Nome's Bering Sea Bar & Grill was destroyed by a fire Saturday evening. Firefighters managed to...
Nome's Bering Sea Bar & Grill was destroyed by a fire Saturday evening. Firefighters managed to keep the fire contained despite wind gusts up to 50 m.p.h.(Chief Meteorologist Melissa Frey)

Alaska’s Weather Source Chief Meteorologist Melissa Frey reports a strong community spirit and resolve in Nome as residents rally together to assess and begin to clean up following this weekend’s historic storm. In addition to the damage caused by the wind, waves, and water, fire claimed the Bering Sea Bar & Grill Saturday evening.

“I’m told the volunteer fire department did an amazing job keeping the fire contained, even in the very strong winds,” Melissa said. Observations from nearby weather stations show wind gusts of 35 to 55 mph at the time of the fire.

Melissa will continue to report from Nome on Monday.

No major changes to the forecast for Northwestern Alaska as outlined in the previous post for the overnight hours into Monday and Tuesday.

Sept. 18 - 7 p.m.

Alaska’s Weather Source Meteorologist Joe Bartosik: Chief Meteorologist Melissa Frey and Photojournalist Luke Patrick are on the ground in Nome and will be reporting live Sunday and Monday as residents begin to pick up the pieces from this weekend’s historic storm.

Flooding in Bethel, AK on Saturday, September 17, 2022 caused by storm surge associated with...
Flooding in Bethel, AK on Saturday, September 17, 2022 caused by storm surge associated with remnants of Typhoon Merbok.(JoeJoe Prince)

Here’s a rundown of major developments from Sunday:

  • A Hooper Bay boy was reported missing immediately following the storm, but Alaska State Troopers reported Sunday that he had been found safe.
  • A Sunday afternoon press conference was held by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and other state officials detailing the state’s response to the historic storm. They are dealing with lots of wind, flooding, erosion, electrical, and transportation infrastructure damage such as roads, bridges and airports.
  • Beginning Monday, the governor hopes to begin marshaling and allocating resources to some hard-hit communities.
  • GOOD NEWS: As of this writing, there are no reported fatalities or major injuries!
  • The only reporting tidal gage that has not yet reported a maximum water height with the storm is located at Wiluk River below Tutak Creek near Kivalina. The observed level at 5:30 p.m. was 8.06 feet and a forecast maximum of 8.66 feet is expected by late Monday morning. This forecast is still 2.5 feet below flood stage. All other tidal gages along the northwest coast have reported their maximum tidal height from the storm earlier on Sunday.
  • Between 1 to 3 inches of rain have fallen so far in Northwestern Alaska with an additional 1 to 2 inches possible through Monday night in the Kigluaik and Bendeleben Mountains and peaks of the western Brooks Range. Rivers and streams in this region may reach bankful levels through Tuesday. This includes smaller creeks and streams including tributaries of the Noatak, Kobuk, Kivalina, Wulik, Snake and Niukluk Rivers. Water levels will remain higher than normal the next couple of days, but should return closer to normal by late week.
  • Winds will also continue to gradually diminish from gusts of 25 to 45 mph to below 25 mph by Monday night or early Tuesday morning.
  • Coastal Flood Warnings remain in effect for areas from the Seward Peninsula northward to just west of Utqiagvik through Monday at 4 p.m., at the latest.

Sept. 18 - 12:45 p.m.

The storm is still impacting areas in northwest Alaska. Alaska’s News Source spoke with Jeremy Zidek with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Sunday morning regarding damages and the state’s response to communities impacted by this historic storm.

“We have received reports from communities all across the western part of Alaska that they have damages. The damages are along the lines of power outages, damages to roads, flooding — widespread flooding within some communities, minor flooding within others. Damages to power systems, communication systems, water distribution systems,” Zidek said. “We’ve seen damages to airports, access to airports, boardwalks bridges, dock facilities. So there’s been widespread reports of damages throughout these communities. At this time, we haven’t heard of any injuries or fatalities, we’re extremely thankful for that.”

Water from the Bering Sea surges into and  floods Golovin, AK Saturday, September 17, 2022
Water from the Bering Sea surges into and floods Golovin, AK Saturday, September 17, 2022(Amanda Moses | Amanda Moses)

Zidek says the main priority Sunday will be talking to communities and trying to identify what their critical life health safety needs are and trying to find ways to address those.

“Disaster response really has to happen first at that local level and local governments are going to have the capabilities to restore things much faster if it’s within their capabilities,” Zidek said.

Zidek said the state is working with a full range of partners, including the Alaska National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, FEMA, the American Red Cross of Alaska and others to bring resources where needed.

He credits the advanced warning of the powerful storm by the National Weather Service, which gave state and local officials time to prepare.

“Working with them we have reached out to communities that were in the path of the storm, gave them a couple days advanced notification and local governments really did an outstanding job getting ready for this storm, activating emergency response plans, readying their emergency shelters, moving medically fragile people — elders and people with young children — away from those coastal areas,” Zidek said. “We saw in many communities just a tremendous response and that really protected a lot of property, prevented where they could, things being damaged, doing things like moving boats away from the coastline, and securing items so they didn’t get blown away in the high winds.”

Sept. 17 - 11:30 p.m.

Fire at the Bering Sea Bar & Grill and Nugget Inn
Fire at the Bering Sea Bar & Grill and Nugget Inn(Nicole Castel)

Alaska’s Weather Source Meteorologist Joe Bartosik: To borrow a portion of an infamous quote, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, is “a date that will live in infamy” for many Alaskans, especially those living along the nearly 1,000 miles of the western coast severely impacted by what was once Typhoon Merbok.

At a Saturday evening press conference, Governor Dunleavy pledged that the response and recovery from this historic storm is his “administration’s number one priority” adding that “we won’t fully know the extent of the damage and needs of all the communities affected until after a complete assessment is made.”

Given that the storm is still ongoing in the far northwestern part of the state that ‘complete assessment’ won’t likely be final until Sunday afternoon at the earliest, or most likely Monday at the latest.

In addition to the storm surge, flooding, and wind damage to buildings, roads, and other critical infrastructure from the Kuskokwim River Delta northward to Hooper Bay on up to south-facing locations of the Seward Peninsula (Nome, Golovin, Shaktoolik, etc.), a fire occurred at the Bering Sea Bar and Grill and adjacent Nugget Inn. Calls placed to fire officials to get a description as to the extent of the damage were not returned late Saturday night.

Tidal wave heights were reached at Nome early evening on Saturday, so the high water focus shifts northward to the north side of the Seward Peninsula and along the northwest coast of the state from Kotzebue to Point Hope and up to Wainwright during the first part of Sunday. It appears that after the high tide early Sunday, residents and officials can begin to breathe a sigh of relief.

More good news, as of this writing, the National Weather Service has canceled all advisories and warnings for wind along the western coast as maximum wind gusts from the Seward Peninsula and areas along the northwest coasts are likely to stay below 60 m.p.h. overnight and into Sunday.

The remnant low of what was Typhoon Merbok is expected to weaken and dissipate in the far southern Arctic Ocean late Monday or early Tuesday with little additional significant impact to the state of Alaska.

Sept. 17 - 11:25 p.m.

State officials said Saturday night that they are in an assessment phase and working on figuring out what people across about 1,000 miles of coastline currently need.

Another update is expected sometime Sunday, according to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Along the west coast, torrential rains and high surf — among other storm conditions — have left streets under water, airport runways flooded, and houses floating in newly-made rivers. State commissioners who spoke tonight said they are still in an “assessment” phase but expect to have another update sometime tomorrow. Stay safe out there!

Posted by Beth Verge - KTUU on Sunday, September 18, 2022

Sept. 17 - 4:45 p.m.

Storm hits western Alaska

Sept. 17 - 4 p.m.

Currently, there are no rescue efforts underway because the storm is still hitting some of the areas extremely hard, according to Jeremy Zidek with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Zidek explained that it would be extremely difficult to perform rescue efforts in the current conditions.

Zidek also said that no requests have been made for rescue efforts yet.

Sept. 17 - 1 p.m.

“Mother nature is angry.”

Those were the words of Paul Kosto, the Logistic Section Chief for the Unified Command in Nome, Alaska, when describing the storm afflicting Western Alaska.

Kosto said the city is reporting road damages, flooding, and houses moved off of their foundation, and are afloat.

“We got a house in the Snake River that is floating upstream if you can believe that, because the winds are strong enough and pushed it up towards a bridge,” Kosto said.

Kosto said they do not fear any damage will occur to the bridge. Their main concern at the moment is the condition of the city’s port, in case water levels continue to rise. There are reports of flooding on Front Street, heading into First Avenue — with other roadways blocked by high water levels.

“The whole thing going out towards the Bean road, which is about two miles out of town, it’s impassable. It’s full of debris and full of water,” Kosto said.

Kosto said for the last 14 to 18 hours they have been experiencing high winds — over 70 mph — out of the south.

“We have definitely seen some hurricane force winds in the last day,” Kosto said. Nome also has lots of rain and high surf on the coastline.

“It’s actually breaking through the roadway, ripping the asphalt off from the road and then eroding the road base way down on Front Street,” Kosto said.

As of 1 p.m. Saturday, the city has not had any reports of fires, ambulance calls, or injuries.

Residents of Nome are asked to please hunker down at home and make sure they have all medications on hand and carry essential items with them. People should stay off of the roadways and stay put.

Residents on Front Street, or in low-lined areas can evacuate to the recreational center, which is being used as the city’s evacuation center at this time. The center is currently housing five individuals that needed to be relocated.

Sept. 17 - 12:30 p.m

Alaska’s Weather Source Meteorologist Joe Bartosik: The low pressure center associated with the remnants of Typhoon Merbok continues to slowly move through the center of the Bering Straits. Officials with the National Weather Service have stated that water levels in both Nome and Golovin have surpassed high water marks set in both the November, 1974 storm as well as the November 2011 Bering Sea Superstorm. Ocean buoys just off the Nome coast continue to show wave heights of 16 feet pushing toward the coast. Wind gusts in the Nome area this morning have so far peaked at 55 mph with sustained winds in the 30 to 40 mph range. Rain continues to fall as well.

Governor Dunleavy earlier today verbally declared a state of emergency for portions of western Alaska. This provides immediate support to local emergency officials for the preservation of life and property.

Sept. 17 - 10:00 a.m

Alaska’s Weather Source Update from Chief Meteorologist Melissa Frey: The center of the storm is currently moving through the Bering Straight as high winds and flooding continue to cause damage in many western Alaska communities. We’ve seen peak wind gusts of 55-81 mph along this coast this morning.

The wind will stay strong through the afternoon, but it is the storm surge that is still the most concerning. Residents in this area need to be prepared for rising water levels through the afternoon, especially in and around Norton Sound. Stay out of the water, and do not drive through flooded streets.

The center of the storm is currently moving through the Bering Straight as high winds and flooding continue to cause damage in many western Alaska communities. We've seen peak wind gusts of 55-81 mph along this coast this morning. The wind will stay strong through the afternoon, but it is the storm surge that is still the most concerning. Be prepared for rising water levels, especially in and around Norton Sound into the afternoon. Updates here: https://www.alaskasnewssource.com/2022/09/16/flooding-damage-likely-powerful-storm-moves-into-western-alaska/

Posted by Melissa Frey on Saturday, September 17, 2022

Sept. 17 - 9 a.m

The town of Hooper Bay, a community of approximately 1,500 people on the Bering Sea coast, has seen extensive damage to boats and houses and fuel tanks have ripped from their foundations, according to Paul Galvez with the Lower Yukon School District.

Galvez reported that much of the town has lost power and that many residents have sought shelter at Hooper Bay School, which serves about 500 students.

“They didn’t want to be stranded out there,” Galvez told Alaska’s News Source on Saturday. “They’re scared of more flooding happening.”

Galvez said some houses in the town have come displaced from their foundations, and described widespread flooding that has essentially stranded the town. He added that water levels — described as being up to six feet in spots — appeared to be coming down before they started rising again.

Fuel tanks were seen lying on their side, Galvez said, adding that it’s unknown if there is any fuel spilled, or if there is any fuel in the tanks. The road to the town’s airport is also flooded, he said.

With wind speeds high, Galvez said the storm is among the most powerful the region has seen in decades.

“A lot of boats are shattered. Homes are not built for this type of wind,” he said. “Most of (the elders) have said this is the worst storm they have seen.”

Sept. 17 - 8 a.m

The community of Nome is bracing against the storm surge this morning, as barricades have been built up to withstand the flooding, which has inundated many streets on the coastal side of town.

Bryant Hammond, the incident commander with the emergency operations center and the acting city manager, said several streets are impassable due to the flooding, and the team received at least one request for a building evacuation that has “southern exposure.”

“Right now, we’re heading into high tide in the next two hours, so we’re hoping this storm moves a bit north,” Hammond said.

Hammond added that the high winds in Nome were also cause for concern, with some reports of tin roof sheet metal coming loose. Hammond said no injuries have been reported so far. He said some areas of town briefly lost power overnight, with outages lasting no longer than 30 minutes.

A peak wind gust of 59 mph was recorded late Friday night in Nome.

Hammond also said Nome has put up an evacuation center, where a handful of people have utilized.

The National Weather Service in Anchorage reported peak wind gusts of 75 mph across the Kuskokwim Delta overnight, strong enough to be considered on the lower end of category 1 hurricane strength.

Sept. 17 - 6:30 a.m.

Communities from Nome to Hooper Bay are continuing to see the effects of the remnants of Typhoon Merbok.

Bethel Mayor Mark Springer reported late Friday night that massive swells from the Bering Sea have inundated the land around Chevak, a small community approximately 136 miles northwest of Bethel and 10 miles east of Hooper Bay, where even more damaging surf conditions have hit.

The National Weather Service in Fairbanks reported that parts of the town of Golovin are also underwater, saying that “water has almost completely covered the old runway in Golovin with waters still expected to rise a few more feet.”

Sept. 17 - 1 a.m.

Residents of Hooper Bay say this is the worst storm they’ve seen. A video shared with Alaska’s News Source from Paul Galvez and the Lower Yukon School District shows homes are off foundations, power lines are down, roads are underwater, and debris is scattered everywhere.

Since this video was taken, the winds have increased and water levels continue to rise. We will continue to see a strong storm surge along the west coast, all the way to Kotzebue through the night and day tomorrow.

"Worst storm I've ever had." -Judy Bunyon, Hooper Bay. Homes off foundations, power lines down, roads under water, and debris everywhere. This was the scene in Hooper Bay tonight from Paul Galvez and the Lower Yukon School District. Since this video was taken, the winds have increased and water levels continue to rise. We will continue to see a strong storm surge along the west coast, all the way to Kotzebue through the night and day tomorrow. Stay safe!

Posted by Melissa Frey on Saturday, September 17, 2022

Sept. 16 - 11:30 p.m.

The center of the storm is now over St. Lawrence Island, but the wind field expands across the entire Bering Sea, from the Aleutians to Kotzebue.

The biggest impacts right now are near Hooper Bay and Scammon Bay. That is where people are evacuating as water is quickly moving into town. Winds in this area are between 60 and 70 mph, which is also causing power outages and structural damage.

School gym is open as an evacuation center. The front doors are open to the school.

Posted by Hooper Bay School on Friday, September 16, 2022

The storm will move north to Nome overnight. Winds across Norton Sound and the Seward Peninsula will increase through the night, with the highest winds will likely peak early Saturday.

The most dangerous impact of this storm will be flooding, caused by storm surge. Norton Sound should be prepared for six to 12 feet of water above normal high tide levels.

Warnings are in effect through Saturday for most of coastal western Alaska for high winds and coastal flooding.

Forecast for western Alaska late Friday and Saturday.
Forecast for western Alaska late Friday and Saturday.(Alaska's News Source)

Sept. 16 - 8 p.m.

A member of the Hooper Bay Police Department told Alaska’s News Source that evacuations were beginning for the small community. Power outages were reported and power lines are downed as water begins to move into the community. Residents are being asked to move to higher ground at the school and community church.

Hooper Bay flooding as of 6 p.m. Friday evening.
Hooper Bay flooding as of 6 p.m. Friday evening.(Alaska's News Source)

Sept. 16 - 4:50 p.m.

The Norton Sound Health Corporation has issued a statement about the preparedness level of their incident command team.

“NSHC remains in close communication with clinic staff in each location and will be ready to adapt to any necessary changes,” the statement said.

“NSHC is monitoring communities at high risk for flooding and has protocols in place to transport emergency patients in the event that runways become unavailable. Additionally, clinics are well stocked with emergency supplies as of this week.

“NSHC encourages residents to know their community’s evacuation plan and to have their emergency kits prepared, including medications, food and water. Prepare for the potential situation of up to seven days without power.

“If anyone has additional questions about NSHC preparedness, text your questions or concerns to (907) 434-1927, and the incident command team will make sure you are heard. The Nurse Call Line is available at (907) 443-6411 for any urgent needs or healthcare advice outside of clinic hours.”

Sept. 16 - 2:30 p.m.

Sept. 15 - 10 p.m.

A powerful typhoon moved north Wednesday night through the western Pacific, the equivalent of a category one hurricane — now this post-tropical storm will bring damaging winds, dangerous seas, and likely flooding from an extreme storm surge to western Alaska.

The storm passed over Shema Thursday evening, bringing high winds to the western Aleutians, with gusts over 65 mph reported even 400 miles from the center of the storm. The storm is now on the far southern edge of the Bering Sea, moving north. Overnight, wind gusts to 90 mph are likely in the southwest Bering Sea.

Friday morning, the storm will travel northeast, toward the Bering Straight, bringing wind gusts to 90 mph in Savoonga Friday afternoon. Bethel should prepare for wind gusts to 60 mph Friday night. The highest winds will reach Nome overnight Friday, into Saturday morning with gusts to 75 mph likely.

This storm will also produce dangerous seas, with wave heights of 35-50 feet expected. The high winds will contribute to a dangerous storm surge for most of the coastal regions of western Alaska.

Significant coastal flooding is likely along the Bering Sea coastline. Norton Sound will likely see some of the most extreme storm surge with water levels 8-18 feet above the normal high tide line. Road closures are possible from flooding and low-lying areas could become inundated.

Those living in the coastal communities of western Alaska should prepare for high water and damaging winds. Do not drive through high water.

Correction: Corrected sentence from Sept. 17, at 6:30 a.m. post from “the village of Chevak” to the “land around Chevak.”