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As Bering Sea storm calms, Alaskans clear away trees and boulders

November 10, 2011 |  3:29 pm

  Nome, Alaska, residents look out over a flooded street

The worst appears to be over in the massive Bering Sea storm that has pounded western Alaska. With flood warnings ending Thursday afternoon and into the evening, residents in hard-hit coastal areas were beginning to assess the damage, clean up and recover from the uproar.

When the storm warnings were issued earlier in the week, "I got scared," Diana Haecker, a local resident and reporter for the Nome Nugget, told The Times. "The National Weather Service said this was a life-threatening event. ... But now everybody’s cleaning up, and life is pretty much back to normal."

The storm is in its "death throes," meteorologist Andrew Dixon of the National Weather Service confirmed in an interview.  "It peaked with a 10-foot storm surge yesterday. They're going to see a small rise in the next 24 hours, but it's going to be nothing like they saw yesterday or the day before."

Low-lying communities bore the brunt of the storm, which peaked Tuesday and Wednesday, Haecker said via telephone.

Little Diomede Island -- "in the Bering Strait just three miles from Russia; basically it's a rock sticking out of the sea" -- took a beating, particularly without a buffer of ice.

"It usually has ice by now," which would mean the shoreline would be sheltered from the punishing waves the storm brought. 

State emergency officials said minor damage or evacuations have been reported in 37 communities, including Nome, where the main thoroughfare was evacuated as logs and rocks washed through the street. Some people came home later to flooded basements.

In Deering, a village on Kotzebue Sound, about 100 people had to evacuate to the school as floodwaters moved in, officials said, and there was minor flooding in nearly a dozen other small towns, with short power outages in others.

There have been no reports of deaths or injuries, but Alaska state troopers said they were looking for a 26-year-old man who was missing from the village of Teller after riding his snow machine near the waterfront during the storm.

Spokeswoman Megan Peters told The Times that the man, Kyle Komok, was last seen about 4 p.m. Wednesday heading to an area known as "the Point," a small jetty that separates Port Clarance and Imuruk Basin. Waves at the time were reported to be hitting the seawall at heights of 8 to 10 feet.

"This morning, two people on ATVs went out to the point and didn't find any sign of Komok or his machine," Peters said.

State officials said they were keeping their 24-hour emergency operations center open and trying, now that the weather is improving, to get more complete reports on how everyone fared.

"As the threat from the storm begins to pass, the state will give communities the opportunity to restore essential service and get people back into their homes before we begin a thorough damage assessment," David Kang, deputy incident commander, said in a statement.

For Nome residents -- accustomed to the hardships that come from living on the edge of the Earth -- the last few days have been a bit of an adventure, albeit a scary one.

When area residents weren't "hunkering down and sleeping a lot," they were storm watching and taking strolls, Haecker said.

It was "really funny," Haecker said. "Everybody was out storm-watching, going out to the water’s edge and having their photo taken" in front of the wild surf.

Still, the storm was, all in all, "un-photogenic," Haecker said.  While the Category 3 hurricane-type winds were beating down "the sun was shining. It looked like just another beautiful day in the Arctic."


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-- Amy Hubbard and Kim Murphy

Photo: A couple stands in front of flooded River Street in Nome, Alaska, on Wednesday. Credit: Peggy Fagerstrom / Anchroage Daily News