Alaska in Brief

Alaska officials seek 100% federal coverage of disaster aid for storm-damaged communities

By: - September 22, 2022 6:43 pm
The flooded village of Golovin in the Bering Strait region is seen from a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft on Sept. 18. Golovin was heavily damaged by flooding and winds driven by Typhoon Merbok. Coast Guard crews were among those assessing damages from the historic storm. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ian Gray/U.S. Coast Guard)

The flooded village of Golovin in the Bering Strait region is seen from a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft on Sept. 18. Golovin was heavily damaged by flooding and winds driven by Typhoon Merbok. Coast Guard crews were among those assessing damages from the historic storm. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ian Gray/U.S. Coast Guard)

Alaska officials are asking that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide 100% of the funds necessary for western Alaska communities to recover from damages inflicted by Typhoon Merbok. That would match the 100% response funding that was committed to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Fiona in President Biden’s federal disaster declaration.

Typically, FEMA covers 75% of disaster-relief costs, leaving the remainder to be matched by state, local or tribal governments.

For western Alaska, “we feel that that’s just not acceptable, particularly with how fast we need to move and the status of the communities out there.” Bryan Fisher, director of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said at a news conference held by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Along with the Dunleavy administration, which has submitted a request for a presidential disaster declaration, the Alaska congressional delegation argued the case for 100% cost coverage in a letter sent Thursday to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. The three-member delegation cited socioeconomic factors in the rural region as well as the rapid approach of winter.

Bryan Fisher, director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, speaks at a Sept. 22 news conference about the state's response to damages in western Alaska caused by Typhoon Merbok. At right is Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who declared a state disaster and on Sept. 20 asked President Biden for a federal disaster declaration. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Bryan Fisher, director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, speaks at a Sept. 22 news conference about the state’s response to damages in western Alaska caused by Typhoon Merbok. At right is Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who declared a state disaster and on Sept. 20 asked President Biden for a federal disaster declaration. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

The coastal communities affected by Typhoon Merbok are “experiencing high levels of unemployment and poverty, and it is likely that many homes are not insured against the losses experienced. Additionally, the cost of providing immediate temporary housing will impede the financing available for housing construction,” the letter said.

“As you consider requests for storm recovery funding and cost shares across the nation, including for Puerto Rico … we expect you to deliver an equitable decision in Alaska,” the letter said.

The typhoon-driven winds and flooding last weekend slammed a 1,000-mile swath of western Alaska’s coastline.

Criswell, who has been in Puerto Rico, is traveling to Alaska herself to survey the damage in western Alaska and was expected to start surveying the damage to coastal communities on Friday, Dunleavy said.

In case the 100% coverage is not provided immediately by FEMA, the governor has requested $10 million from a state emergency fund, Fisher said.

As winter freeze approaches and is expected to arrive in western Alaska in about four weeks, the speed of federal aid is critical, officials said.

Dunleavy, at his news conference, said he made that point earlier in the day in a phone call with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“I just said to him, ‘Look, the damage may not be as extensive as in Puerto Rico or some of the other places where they have hurricanes. But it’s our timeline that’s the issue. It’s our remoteness that’s the issue. It’s our lack of infrastructure that’s the issue,’” Dunleavy said.

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Yereth Rosen
Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has been reporting on Alaska news ever since, covering stories ranging from oil spills to sled-dog races. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations. She covers environmental issues, energy, climate change, natural resources, economic and business news, health, science and Arctic concerns -- subjects with a lot of overlap. In her free time, she likes to ski and watch her son's hockey games.

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