Dunleavy visits Norton Sound to assess storm damage

mike dunleavy
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaking at the Capitol in Juneau, Alaska in 2019. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy visited Nome Wednesday to assess the damage caused by a historic September storm that affected hundreds of miles of Western Alaska coastline and dozens of communities.

During his visit to the Norton Sound region, Dunleavy was able to spend time in Golovin, Elim and briefly touch down in Koyuk. There is no substitute for being on the ground and seeing the storm impacts with his own eyes, Dunleavy said.

“You really have to come out here to see it,” Dunleavy said. “And what I mean by that is, you can get reports but the reports always seem to fall short of what really happened, of the details that you need to have to make sure things get put back together.”

Dunleavy was accompanied on his assessment by Alaska National Guard Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe as Guardsmen deploy in response to the storm, as well as Department of Transportation Commissioner Ryan Anderson due to widespread road damage and erosion.

Based on the State of Alaska’s assessment, the five communities that were hit the hardest from the recent storm were Golovin, Hooper Bay, Newtok, Nome and Scammon Bay. Dunleavy was able to visit all of them over the past few days, and noted that Golovin’s damage stood out to him.

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)

“There’s a pretty flat spit there as well as a hill where homes are located. That spit got hit pretty hard,” Dunleavy said. “We saw a lot of devastation there. A lot of high water, teacher housing, other housing, buildings and connexes that have been blown across the inlet, quite some distance and that are now located on the other side of the inlet.”

Dunleavy returned to Anchorage Wednesday night, as another fall storm prevented him from flying on to Shaktoolik as planned.

Weather will continue to be a factor in the coming weeks for Western Alaska’s recovery process. There is a limited window of time for recovery as freeze-up is fast approaching, Dunleavy said.

“You got to move fast,” Dunleavy said. “We can’t let bureaucracy stand in the way, because every day is a day for some folks in a wet house. Every day is a day in which their house is off its foundation or they can’t get to where their boats are because their roads are gone.”

On Sept. 20, Dunleavy sent a request to the federal government asking for financial assistance through grant programs, and for 100% federal share in cost. It is unclear if or when President Biden will issue a major disaster declaration to assist Western Alaska, with Puerto Rico also asking for help to recover from Hurricane Fiona.

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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.