Village of Savoonga contends with power outage as region is hit with heavy storms

Savoonga. (Anna Rose MacArthur/KNOM)

While coronavirus causes concern in communities across the state, heavy winter storms have knocked out the village of Savoonga’s power twice in the last week. 

“They lost their phones and internet. There are some people that do have limited WiFi capability,” said David Lee, an emergency management specialist with the state.

Lee says that power went out in the village last Friday. While a lineman was able to fix the issues, the power went out again by Monday.

“From what I understand, they’re waiting on a part to be snowmachined in from Gambell and they’re also waiting for a mechanic to fly in,” Lee said.

Lee says National Weather Service workers report  that Friday would be the earliest opportunity for a flight out to the village. Savoonga has a population of around 700 people. It’s on an island 163 miles west of Nome. 

In the meantime, Lee says currently 16 families are using the school as a shelter. The school currently has power from a back-up generator. He also says the store in town is open with supplies. 

The emergency shelter needs for families during the outage conflict with guidelines for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Governor Dunleavy have both recommended not having groups larger than ten in an area, with some districts banning the use of school facilities for any purpose. Lee says this may be a situation where one emergency supersedes another. 

“I don’t think it would be against the spirit of what the governor announced for them to use the school as a shelter,” Lee said. “In a community where, say, the National Guard armory would be the shelter, it’d be the same type of thing. They’re just using a big building as a shelter. The fact that it’s a school is kind of irrelevant at this point.”

The Norton Sound region is currently under a winter weather advisory with heavy snow and winds expected to die down by noon Friday. 

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