President Biden Declares Major Disaster in Alaska Following Severe Weather

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Last week, Alaska experienced the most severe weather it had seen in decades. The remnants of Typhoon Merbok wreaked havoc on many coastal cities, towns, and communities. Now, as first responders and search and recovery teams work to assess the damage, U.S. President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster for Alaskan residents.

According to The Hill, President Biden declared a disaster state on Friday. That declaration demands federal assistance in addition to state, local, and tribal recovery efforts. The mission to assess and rebuild comes after historic flooding and landslides completely devastated certain areas along Alaska’s west coast.

Per the outlet, the disaster declaration provides funding to individuals in multiple regions. These include in the Bering Strait, Kashunamiut, Lower Kuskokwim, and Lower Yukon. The president’s latest move more specifically provided affected individuals with funds to cover temporary housing and home repairs. The declaration also provides low-cost loans to make up for uninsured property loss as well as programs that help both homes and businesses.

Biden’s disaster declaration came days after Alaska’s governor, Mike Dunleavy, issued his own state disaster declaration. Dunleavy’s came on Saturday, September 17th, with the remnants of Typhoon Merbok enduring from the 15th through the 20th.

With federal funding approved, officials are continuing assessment efforts, working to determine the extent of the damage across Alaska’s west coast in the storm’s aftermath.

Authorities Assessing Damage to Alaska’s Most Remote Communities

While the Biden administration approved federal funding for recovery efforts on Friday, authorities began assessing the worst struck communities, which also happen to be some of Alaska’s most remote, as early as Wednesday.

The storm which slammed into the state’s western coast spanned a massive 1,000 miles bringing with it torrential downpours, mass power outages, and serious storm surges. Floodwaters began receding as early as last Sunday but not before the storm had torn multiple houses from their foundations and demolished roads, ports, and seawalls.

Authorities started taking into account damage done to Alaska’s remote communities on Monday. Areas most severely affected by the historic flooding include Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Golovin, Newtok, and Nome. Those communities not only experienced major flooding but also detrimental erosion and various electrical issues.

Some of the highest storm surges took place in Kotzebue, Kivalina, and Shishmaref. Surges in Shishmaref reached 5.5 feet while the former communities saw smaller surges. Farther away in Nome, storm surges were terrifyingly huge, at points reaching more than 11 feet above normal tide.

Regardless, however, of which communities were most severely affected by the storm, officials hope to provide aid equally across Alaska’s west coast. Jeremy Zidek, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said, “While the needs may be greater in some, we don’t want to neglect those other communities that have minor issues that still need to be resolved.”