- Associated Press - Friday, November 18, 2016

EMMONAK, Alaska (AP) - The city of Emmonak in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is racing to repair its sewage treatment plant before pipes freeze for winter, leaving the city without running water.

A fire on Monday started at the plant when the city’s vacuum pump overheated and burned through its metal casing and the roof of the water-sewer plant. Repairs were underway Wednesday, KYUK-AM reported (https://bit.ly/2fnZloy ).

Jamie Awgika, the employee who found the fire, said he went to the plant after his toilet at home wouldn’t flush. When he, arrived the ceiling of the plant was on fire.

“I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it happened. Scared, wondering what to do. I only had one fire extinguisher, and I used it,” said Awgika.

This is the third time in 10 years the vacuum pump has broken, though Awgika said incident was the worst. Emmonak was in the process of replacing the pump when the fire occurred.

The city is not pursuing legal action despite the malfunctioning equipment.

The city has running water as long as pipes don’t freeze, but with the sewage plant disabled they are unable to get rid of grey water and human waste. Many in the city have reverted to using the honey bucket system - large buckets that serve as toilets.

“Like we’re living in the old days,” said Yolanda Kelly, who has taken to boiling water for baths and using a honey bucket in her home.

Kelly said her family used honey buckets when she was growing up but she doesn’t want that for her children.

Albert Westlock, an ivory carver, also said it feels like the city has been sent back in time.

“We got no bathrooms, so we got to go back to the old days, back to the sixties and seventies,” Westlock said.

Westlock said if the pipes do freeze it won’t be too bad, he can go back to hauling water and cutting ice from the river, but he worries that his nieces and nephews will have a harder time.

“It’s pretty hard on these little kids, you know,” he said. “They’re not used to what we went through a long time ago.”

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Information from: KYUK-AM, https://www.kyuk.org

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