ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A powerful storm traveling north through the Bering Strait on Saturday caused widespread flooding in several coastal communities in western Alaska, knocking out power and sending residents fleeing for higher ground. .
The force of the water moved several houses from their foundations, and one house in Nome floated down a river until it caught on a bridge.
The storm is the remnant of Typhoon Merbok, a storm that is affecting weather patterns as far away as California, where strong winds and a rare late summer rainstorm were expected.
In Alaska, there were no reports of injuries or deaths from the storm, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Officials warned communities that some areas could experience the worst flooding in 50 years and that it would take up to 14 hours for water to recede.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster declaration for affected communities on Saturday.
Among the hardest hit was Golovin, where most of the village’s 170 or so residents took shelter in the school or three hillside buildings. Winds in the area were gusting over 60 mph (95 kph) and the water level was 11 feet (3.35 meters) above the normal high tide line and was expected to rise 2 feet (61 centimeters) on Saturday before the contraction.
“Most of the lower part of the community is flooded with structures and buildings under water,” said Ed Plumb, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
Clarabelle Lewis, facilities manager for the tribal government, the Chinik Eskimo Community, was among those who sought refuge on the hill above Golovin. She and others were riding out the storm at the tribal office after getting items to their homes from the winds and helping their neighbors do the same.
“The winds were howling; it was noisy,” she said.
Lewis has never experienced a storm like this in the 20 years she has lived in Golovin.
“We’ve had floods in the past few times, but it’s never been this bad,” she said. “Our houses have never been moved from their foundations.”
There were also reports of flooding in Hooper Bay, St. Michael’s, Unalakleet and Shaktoolik, where waves broke over the berm in front of the community, Plumb said.
He said that the storm will track through the Bering Strait on Saturday and then head into the Chukchi Sea.
“And then it’s going to kind of pitch up and weaken just west of Point Hope,” he said of the community on Alaska’s northwest coast.
He said water would be high in the northern Bering Sea neighborhood through Saturday night before beginning to recede through Sunday. Water levels would rise further north, in the Chukchi Sea and Kotzebue Sound areas until Sunday.
In Northern California, wind gusts of up to 40 mph (64 kph) were forecast overnight Saturday and into Sunday morning along coastal areas from Sonoma County down to Santa Cruz and at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, the National Weather Service said.
Winds of that strength can bring down branches and drought-stricken trees and cause problems with power outages, weather service meteorologist Ryan Walbrun said.
Storms were expected to begin Sunday morning and dump up to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of rain in coastal areas of Sonoma County and slightly less as rain moves south into the San Francisco area and into the Santa Cruz mountains, he said. Walbrun.
“This is pretty significant rain this early in the season,” he said, adding that the storms are forecast to last on and off through at least Monday and make for a wet commute with slick roads.
In the Sierra Nevada foothills northeast of the state capital of Sacramento, fire crews are battling the state’s largest wildfire so far this year. Although rain was needed, the winds were a concern for crews battling the Mosquito Fire, which was 21% as of Saturday morning.
“The winds will certainly lead to erratic fire behavior” that could ignite new hot spots, Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said, but the rain will bring welcome moisture. “The rain is not going to put the fire out but it will help.”
Gecker reported from San Francisco.