Alaskan storm leaves region ravaged

Darkness stalls damage assessment; man feared drowned

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska A massive storm that battered Alaska’s western coast with hurricane-strength winds and towering sea surges has passed out of the region in a much weaker state, leaving behind widespread damage and a missing man who may have been swept out to a churning sea.

So far, 37 communities have reported some form of damage, said Jeremy Zidek, spokesman for the state’s emergency-management agency.

In one remote village that lost heat and power early Wednesday, about 20 vehicles lined up along an airstrip and used their headlights to guide in a plane carrying repairmen.

Other residents came together and did traditional Eskimo dances used during whaling season to seek good weather.

On Thursday, rescuers searched for a 26-year-old man who authorities said may have been washed into the Bering Sea during the storm.

Kyle Komok of Teller was last seen at 4 p.m. Wednesday as he headed toward a jetty where waves were cresting as high as 10 feet, Alaska State Troopers said.

Emergency responders called the storm an epic event that displaced residents, flooded the shoreline, ripped up roofs and knocked out power in scores of villages.

Officials said Thursday the process of gauging the full extent of the damage will begin soon. They noted some of the hardest-hit communities are in areas where winter daylight comes late in the day, and mornings are in pitch darkness.

Forecasters said another storm is stepping in to replace the tempest, but the new storm is much weaker. It is expected to bring winds ranging from 20 to 40 mph, said National Weather Service meteorologist Don Moore. In comparison, the storm that pounded the Bering Sea coast this week carried gusts of nearly 90 mph and created tides as high as 10 feet above normal.

Though far less powerful, the new storm will keep water levels from receding as quickly, Mr. Moore said.

Communities hard hit include the northwest Alaska villages of Point Hope, built on a large gravel spit, and Kivalina, one of the most eroded communities in the state.

Point Hope Mayor Steve Oomittuk said homes in the Inupiat Eskimo community have been without electricity and heat since early Wednesday, after winds gusting at 80 mph slammed an old wooden shack into a power pole with five main lines, cutting it in half. The building then broke apart, sending wood flying.

“There’s a lot of debris in that area,” Mr. Oomittuk said Thursday morning, soon after repair workers landed at the airstrip.

Mr. Oomittuk said the winds were too strong during the storm to get a full picture of the damage around the community.

More than 500 of Point Hope’s nearly 700 residents have been staying at the village school, which has its own generator. Among them was Nellie Sears, the school librarian. She said every classroom was full of residents seeking shelter.

For a while there was a warning Wednesday that the barreling storm could get worse. So villagers started performing the traditional Eskimo dances they do during whaling season, when they are seeking good weather. Just before 10 p.m., they got word that the warning had been cancelled, Miss Sears said.

Kivalina, 75 miles down the coast, got a “good surge from the ocean,” said village spokeswoman Colleen Swan. But mornings are very dark and the extent of flooding was not known beyond water washing over the village dump site and on the beach, she said.

• AP writer Mark Thiessen contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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