'Epic' Alaska storm causes flooding overnight

AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News/Peggy Fagerstrom

An Alaskan storm of "epic proportions" caused more flooding overnight and left communities along the state's western coast bracing for another possible sea surge Thursday.

In Nome, the tide crested 10 feet above normal late Wednesday, causing flooding along the town's main street, where the world-famous Iditarod sled dog race ends.

Strong winds ripped roofs from some buildings in the historic gold mining town, and there was a report that one building lost its front wall, said Julie Malingowski, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fairbanks.

Farther north, tides were 3 to 5 feet above normal along the Chukchi Sea coastline, causing flooding in the barrier island village of Shishmaref, Malingowski said early Thursday.

Damage from heavy storm surf also was being reported in the villages of Kivalina and Point Hope. "There is a lot of erosion," Malingowski said.

While winds had eased considerably, the threat from the storm surge will remain until sea levels begin to fall later Thursday, she said.

The strongest storm to hit the state in four decades carried with it heavy snow, rain and hurricane-force winds. It has knocked out power in a handful of coastal communities and sent some residents fleeing to higher ground.

"This is a storm of epic proportions," said meteorologist Jeff Osiensky with the National Weather Service. "We're not out of the woods with this."

Water reportedly has reached homes in at least four Native villages, including Tununak and Kipnuk, state emergency managers have said. Nome, Hooper Bay and Tununak reported scattered power outages. During outages, officials were able to maintain contact with communities by satellite phone and VHS radios.

Earlier, the storm produced 85-mph gusts, well above hurricane force. But emergency managers said that the winds had begun to taper off and were clocked with still-potent gusts of 55 mph. The storm had already passed through more southern points of its path.

The last time the communities saw something similar was in November 1974, when a storm created a sea surge that measured more than 13 feet. The surge pushed beach driftwood above the level of the previous storm of its type in 1913.

The weather service said a "potent upper level disturbance" rotating around the Bering Sea storm was expected to bring 3 to 8 inches of snowfall to the Anchorage area by Thursday afternoon. The service issued a winter weather advisory for Anchorage in effect until noon Thursday.

Stephen Kearney, a weather service meteorologist in Fairbanks, said late Wednesday the storm was "barely beginning to wind down" along the coast.

In Nome — the biggest of the coastal communities with about 3,600 residents — wind gusted to 61 mph earlier in the week.

Residents along Front Street, which runs less than 100 feet from the seawall that protects Nome from the Bering Sea, were asked to voluntarily evacuate Tuesday. Some of the buildings on the street, which features bars and gift shops, were already soaked when the tide ushered in more flood waters at 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Flooding also was reported in Point Hope, where the water came within 10 feet of the airport runway. But the community still had power Wednesday night, meteorologist Stephen Kearney in Fairbanks told The Anchorage Daily News.

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Associated Press writer Rachel D'Oro contributed to this report.

Updated: 
11/10/2011 - 9:48am