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Western Alaskans Remember Typhoon Merbok a Year Later

One year after the remnants of Typhoon Merbok hit Western Alaska, residents look back on the havoc that struck the state. The storm made landfall on September 17, 2022, and devastated more than 1300 miles of coastline, roughly the distance from Miami to New York City. While thankfully no one lost their lives, more than 35 remote communities were damaged. The National Weather Service estimated the storm surge to be as high as 54 feet, and there was no sea ice to dampen the waves that pounded the shore. The communities of Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Golovin, Newtok, and Nome were hardest hit.

Sierra Smyth lives in Golovin and recalls seeing her neighbor’s house for the first time after the storm: “The door got blown open by the waves. And their house was filled with like three feet of sand. Small shoes were buried under it. And they were cold. And they were scared.” Smyth’s family stayed the night at the school in fear the storm would get worse. She says her son is particular about what he eats and she had to improvise a way to feed him, by warming his milk over a fire in a steel trash can.

Amanda Noyakuk of Nome lost the cabin that her grandfather rebuilt in the 1970s. The cabin, once located on Belmont St. in Nome, was swept away into the Snake River during the storm. The morning that the storm hit, Noyakuk began receiving masses of photos before she arrived on the scene.

“It wasn’t until it got bright out that we went to go and look at the house. And there was nothing we could do about it because it was floating in the river and pushed up against the Snake River bridge.”

Luckily, there was nobody living in the house at the time. She said the community helped gather her belongings from the river, and she is thankful for those who helped her and her family.

Barbara Aukon has a camp about thirty miles outside of Nome. She said the aftermath of the storm is still heartbreaking one year later, and that the city doesn’t look the same since. “So much sand blew over. It’s erosion. We can’t even go down to the beach area. We have to jump down to get to the beach now.” Aukon’s family is working on rebuilding the cabin but is waiting for shipments of material to arrive from Anchorage. She is hoping to finish the rebuild by the time the snow falls. As the rebuilding takes place, she still enjoys her mornings at camp.

Image at the top: Typhoon Merbok swept the cabin of the Noyakuk family into the Snake River. Photo by Amanda Noyakuk, used with permission.

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