At a joint meeting Tuesday night, the Chevak Native Village and the City of Chevak declared a state of emergency after the remnants of Typhoon Merbok destroyed most of the community’s storage sheds that hold gear and supplies for fishing and hunting.
Reporter Emily Schwing is in Chevak, roughly 140 miles west of Bethel, and joined Casey Grove on Alaska News Nightly to discuss the storm’s wreckage.
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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emily Schwing: Well, there’s been a minimal amount of damage to houses and buildings in the community. Yesterday when I flew in, I was honestly a little bit surprised at how little damage there appeared to be. But all that changed for me when you head out to the bluff above the Chevak River at the front of town. Along the riverbank there are boats, fishing floats, gas cans, and piles of gear all tangled up in fishing nets, and it’s all strewn all over the place.
Casey Grove: Yeah, sounds like a mess. Well, Emily, tell us what community leaders are doing to get a handle on the extent of the storms destruction.
ES: So over at the city, they’re trying to coordinate with a few state agencies. The Department of Transportation is sending a team of seven people out next week to assess potential damage to the airport runway, although I didn’t see very much damage when I flew in. More immediately, the Native Village of Chevak hired two temporary employees this morning. They’re going to help assess damages and losses that people suffered in the community. Scott Ulroan grew up here in Chevak. He’s 37, and he spent most of his day taking reports from his friends and neighbors about what they had lost.
Scott Ulroan: People need to show — that’s why it’s important to help them gather the information they need on a broken property. Just give a helping hand to all those who are in need of it.
CG: He sounds a little emotional there. And this is clearly not easy work to be documenting all the damage to his home community. How are people holding up out there?
ES: Yeah, you know, emotions are really running high in this community right now. There’s not been any loss of life. Nobody was injured. And they’re really thankful for that. But many people including Clinton Slats have told me it’s just really hard to put into words what it means to lose their boats and all their fishing and hunting gear. Even so, it’s still really impressive how resilient people are being right now.
Clinton Slats: We’re all alive and good. That’s all that really matters. This stuff can be replaced one way or another.
CG: So yeah, not losing lives is really important. But then of course, losing those boats that can affect their subsistence harvesting. And then even with just the capsized boats comes the potential for fuel spills, right? So what do you know about any possible environmental contamination?
ES: Yeah, the loss of all these boats and gear really has an impact with respect to food security. And same with some of these potential fuel spills. The city reported a sheen on the river a few days ago; I didn’t see that today, but there are a number of gas cans along the river that are overturned. Ryan Bukowski was at the community building to report damages to his own boat, and he says the environmental safety side of this is a very real concern for people.
Ryan Bukowski: Battery acid, hydraulic oil, coolant. There’s people’s leftover fuel, there’s used engine oil, old boat motors and things that have contamination in them that are now in the water.
CG: So Emily, along with all of that, I wonder about the community’s access to water and electricity. What can you tell us about the situation with running water there and power?
ES: Yeah, so the village does have electricity, the power is working. And they do also have running water here. But everyone is on a boil water notice, including at the school. During the storm, that power was knocked out for quite some time and that apparently impacted the machinery over at the wastewater plant that helps the sewer system operate. There is a lot of concern that the drinking water here may have been contaminated. But the community hasn’t received any outside deliveries of drinking water or bottled water. Everybody is just boiling their water for two minutes before they drink it.
CG: Okay, well, we will stay tuned to your reporting out there. That was Alaska Public Media reporter Emily Schwing talking to us from Chevak. Emily, thanks for the update.
ES: Yeah, thanks Casey.