It’s the middle of moose hunting season on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and a handful of Chevak residents were preparing to head out for a weekend hunt, just as they would in any other year. The Alaska Native village of nearly 1,000 is trying to get back to normal after the storm.
During a community meeting earlier in the week, Chevak residents were adamant. They told members of the tribal and city councils that better emergency planning should be a long-term priority. In the near term, though, storm damage assessment is the main focus.
“Tomorrow morning, [we] are going to go to Apun where there’s a significant number of fish camps,” said Scott Ulroan. He and another local man were hired temporarily by the tribal council to survey storm damage to smokehouses, fish racks and wall tent frames.
A walk around Chevak revealed a few signs that one of the most powerful storms in Alaska’s history wreaked havoc here just a week ago. Up on a hill on one end of town, there’s a small orange house with a loose metal roofing panel that flaps in the wind.
Down the hill, brothers David and Mark Ulroan were on the roof of David’s house. Hurricane-force winds during the storm ripped off two-thirds of one side of the roof. The damage left behind dozens of gaping holes where screws used to hold down the metal paneling.
“So that’s what’s making it drip [inside] when it rains right now. We are trying to patch it up,” said David Ulroan.
About a quarter-mile away, Mathew Cholok was inside a huge workshop, hammering away at a piece of metal. Cholok, a mechanic, was working on a boat motor that was submerged in the Chevak River for more than two days, after the storm surge brought a deluge of flood water 17 miles upriver from the Bering Sea coast.
“A lot of it looks like it’s just mainly electrical,” Cholok said, after removing the motor’s cowling and inspecting a few wires that had corroded. “We just gotta tear it apart, clean it up, put it all back together, make sure everything is lubricated properly.”
The motor and the 22-foot aluminum boat belong to Stella Lake. She said her 200-horsepower motor was only a year old. It cost her over $20,000.
“I don’t know how to feel about it, because I’m not the only one,” she said.
Lake makes minimum wage working for the tribal council in Chevak. While her boat motor isn’t a total loss, she doesn’t feel much relief with many boats in Chevak completely destroyed.
“I felt for everyone, other than myself, and I don’t want to say at least mine is better than theirs,” she said. “That’s wrong, you know.”
In the Cup’ik culture, caring for neighbors extends beyond boat repairs and Chevak’s city limits. This community hasn’t always been here. In the 1940s the old village suffered at least one catastrophic flood.
Elder Mary Stone said the land where Chevak sits today actually belongs to Hooper Bay.
“Yeah, they let ‘em move,” she said of Hooper Bay’s past leaders. “They got permission from [Hooper Bay] to have Chevak move over here in the high land,” she explained.
Now, with more than 20 people displaced in Hooper Bay and homes there torn from their foundations, Stone said it might be time for people in Chevak to return the favor.
“If there’s a disaster, maybe Chevak can go by four-wheleer or something to pick them up if they need help, that’s a good idea,” she said.
It’s still unclear how fishing and hunting camps may have fared in the storm. But local residents hope to have a better picture of their subsistence camps may have fared once locals, who plan to moose hunt this weekend, return from their trips.