In Golovin, Alaskans shovel sand out of their homes after historic storm

sand fills a home
“Inside my house is a sandbox,” Golovin resident Willow Olson posted on Twitter. “If I don’t smile about this I will cry.”

Golovin residents are in clean-up mode as their community works to restore power, phone service and clear debris. As the floodwaters recede from the weekend’s historic fall storm, some locals are left with feet of sand in their homes.

“At my place we’ve got 3 feet of sand we’re still shoveling out with the crew here — trying to get the sand out of the living area so we can get the sheetrock to go ahead and dry off,” said Alaska Sen. Donny Olson of Golovin.

Olson said other residents in his hometown are dealing with the same issue. But some, he said, have lost their homes completely — buildings floated away in the storm.

“Housing is still the major issue down here ‘cause so many buildings have been shifted or knocked off their foundations. There are now debris, including houses, in the middle of the road, blocking the way, that need to be cleared before we can get the roads back open,” Olson said.

Golovin is about 70 miles east of Nome and home to roughly 180 people. The state says it’s one of the communities hardest hit by this weekend’s powerful storm, remnants of Typhoon Merbok. The storm slammed into Golovin Friday night and into the next morning, water levels rose rapidly to 9-10 feet above the normal high tide line. The National Weather Service forecast highest water levels for Saturday evening.

That same day, resident Dwight Amaktoolik posted on social media that half the community was under water and Golovin had lost power.

As of Monday afternoon, power was partially restored in the community but not at the Golovin school, Olson said. The priority is to maintain electricity for as many homes as possible so residents can save the subsistence food stored in their freezers, he said.

“We had a number of people who had to evacuate because there was no heat in their homes,” he said. “Now that we’ve got power back on we want to make sure it stays there. And then after that we make sure there’s some kind of food security situation, that we have something to eat as well as something to drink.”

floodwaters in Golovin
A massive storm battering Western Alaska brought floodwaters to the steps of the local school in Golovin on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (Courtesy Josephine Daniels)

Outside agencies and organizations have been sending relief to Golovin directly, whether through the World Central Kitchen delivering food, Northern Air Cargo and Ryan Air bringing in bottled water, or even via online donations.

A GoFundMe page was started for the community by a former teacher in Golovin. It had already raised over $5,000 in the first six hours of being posted.

“That was something to boost our… like we hadn’t been forgotten here in Golovin,” Olson said.

The Alaska National Guard has deployed to Western Alaska to assist with recovery efforts over the coming days.

For more coverage of the storm visit alaskapublic.org/weather.

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Davis Hovey is a news reporter at KNOM - Nome. Hovey was born and raised in Virginia. He spent most of his childhood in Greene County 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville where University of Virginia is located. Hovis was drawn in by the opportunity to work for a radio station in a remote, unique place like Nome Alaska. Hovis went to Syracuse University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Broadcast Digital Journalism.