Now that flood waters have receded, Hooper Bay looks toward recovery

cafeteria workers in a school
Cafeteria workers at the Hooper Bay School serve spaghetti for dinner to those sheltering at the school on Sept. 17, 2022. (Mike Roth)

Hooper Bay was one of the communities hit hardest by the historic storm this weekend when a typhoon slammed 1,000 miles of the Western Alaska coastline with high winds and flood waters.

With many households in Hooper Bay still without power on Sunday, the school was a hub for the community.

On Friday, the school provided shelter for over 100 people. That number grew to more than 300 by Saturday and by Sunday, it was serving about 1,000 people for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Others in the community brought food, including moose meat, pulled out of someone’s freezer after fears it might spoil in the power outage. As it turned out, there was enough moose stew to feed everyone.

Brittany Taraba, assistant principal, said spirits were much improved from the height of the storm.

“The wind gusts were clocking anywhere from 90 to 95 miles per hour. It was like a howling sound, the way it as kind of hitting the building,” Taraba said. “It’s kind of scary situation for an adult, but for a little kid who might not understand, especially the younger ones who were showing up and they would be upset and crying.”

Major flooding in Hooper Bay. (Lola Cernek)

Taraba said some teachers came to the school and played games with the kids to distract them, to give their parents time to settle in and make plans.

There was a scare at one point on Saturday, when a middle school boy turned up missing. But a search team found him, and Taraba says she’s seen him at the school, having fun playing with other kids.

Classrooms were opened up for families to sleep in. A special room was set aside for elders vulnerable to COVID. People have come to the school to take showers and charge up their cell phones and other electrical devices since the school has its own generator and one of the few places with power in the community.

Hooper Bay’s Tribal Chief, Edgar Tall Jr. was among those who took shelter at the school on the first night. He says he’s never experienced anything like this storm in his whole life. Now that the water has receded, he says the community can begin assessing the damage.

One of the first things they noticed is their beach has gotten smaller, that the storm took a large swath, which Tall believes may have saved the community from more harm. He says two families have lost their homes completely. Many others will need roof repairs. Debris is scattered throughout the village, but the airport has been cleared for use. Tall says there was damage done to the community’s water system, but its source of water appears to be safe and once power is completely restored, recovery can begin. On Sunday, Gov. Dunleavy said Hooper Bay was under a boil water advisory, along with the communities of Elim and Unalakleet.

The Hooper Bay school’s assistant principal says she’s been struck community’s resilience and how the storm has brought out the best in everyone.

“There were people who opened up their homes for displaced families. We’ve had one family that completely lost their home. And they’ve already gotten a whole bunch of clothing donations to make sure that they have some immediate needs met,” Taraba said. “The community became one giant family, and the community was doing anything that they could to help each other.”

One pressing need for the school is bottled water. Taraba says the school has a water filter system, but it can’t keep up with the demand for water.

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