Alaska governor issues disaster declaration for series of Bering Sea storms

State officials say about 30 homes in Savoonga, on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, were damaged, including lost roofs, during a pair of winter storms that swept through Western Alaska during the final week of 2016. (City of Savoonga/Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management)
Gov. Bill Walker has issued a disaster declaration for a series of Bering Sea storms over the New Year holiday that caused widespread damage on St. Lawrence Island.

Three northern Alaska storms began the night of Dec. 28 and continued to hammer the island through Jan. 4. Residents in Savoonga said the storms ripped roofs from homes, sent debris flying through windows and cut communications.

The governor’s office said in a statement the storms damaged about 60 structures in Savoonga and Gambell on St. Lawrence. Hurricane-force winds and storm surge conditions damaged at least 30 homes in Savoonga and significantly damaged a water tank in Gambell, according to the statement.

Two emergency managers with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and Red Cross staff visited St. Lawrence to assess the damage once the severe weather passed.

The managers also helped local officials apply for the state-level declaration, officials said.

State funds
One of the homes damaged in Savoonga during the winter storms. (City of Savoonga/Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management)

The disaster declaration frees up state funds to help with the repairs of homes, public buildings and other infrastructure.

Current estimated costs for the storm damages total $2.85 million, according to a letter sent by Walker to state legislative leaders Feb. 1.

The letter says a balance of $23,286 remains in the state’s disaster relief fund, so additional money will be reallocated from funds originally distributed for six previous disaster declarations. The largest chunk, $1.6 million, was allotted for Mat-Su River erosion last year.

The balance of the disaster relief fund will stay the same, Walker said.

Other Western Alaska communities including Kotlik, Kotzebue, Shaktoolik and Teller, also reported storm damage, but none requested state assistance.

“The state is committed to helping with repair efforts, so residents of Savoonga and Gambell can get back to their everyday lives,” Walker said.

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