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Federal disaster declaration declared for regions hit by November storms

Laurel Andrews
The community of Kotlik was pummeled in a series of November storms that swept through Western Alaska. Velvet McCambridge photo

A federal disaster declaration was issued Thursday for regions hit in a series of storms that tore through Alaska’s western coast in early November, as well as the Fairbanks North Star Borough, which was hit by a windstorm that knocked out power to thousand of homes in mid-November.

A series of five storms pummeled the western coast of Alaska in early November. On Nov. 16, Gov. Sean Parnell declared a state disaster for the communities battered in the storms. Meanwhile, the community of Fairbanks struggled to return power to thousands of residents who lost power following a windstorm that felled trees and knocked out power lines.

The Alaska Department of Homeland security identified $11.6 million worth of damage during the preliminary assessment, and "it's quite possible that that number is going to rise," spokesperson Jeremy Zidek said, once spring rolls around and snow melts to reveal more damage to communities. Homeland Security requested a federal disaster declaration on Jan. 9.

Thursday’s declaration will provide assistance for public infrastructure, not for individual households, said Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Ryan Ike. 

Regional education attendance areas are used as the geographic areas outlining which communities will receive assistance in disaster declarations. The REAAs covered in Thursday’s disaster declaration are Bering Strait, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, and Fairbanks North Star Borough, Zidek said.

With the declaration, FEMA will head to afflicted communities to assess damages and make plans to work with communities on restoring public infrastructure to pre-disaster conditions. 

During winter months, the focus will be “project formulations, reimbursement of emergency protection costs,” and other projects that can be done in preparation of the summer construction season. Once construction begins, communities will take the lead in hiring contractors and will then be reimbursed, Zidek said.

Damaged infrastructure includes roads, boardwalks and utilities, such as in the community of Kotlik, where the sewage system was badly damaged and honey buckets were subsequently donated to the village.

The state will act as a liaison between FEMA and the communities, Zidek said. Costs will fall under a 75-25 percent split, with the federal government picking up 75 percent of the tab.

The state also has an individual assistance program for households damaged in November and homes damaged in Kenai River flooding in November. The deadline for applications is tomorrow, Jan. 24. 

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @Laurel_Andrews.