A recent storm that hit Nome, Alaska had such a storm surge, that it took a cabin off its foundation, floating it upstream on the Nome River.
The cabin, owned by Rita Hulkill (82) of Nome, had been on the site for decades. According to Hulkill, the water had never been that high, ever. Without any sea ice, there was nothing to protect Nome from the surge. The cabin sat on a parcel of land that was a part of a native allotment that belonged to the Hulkill family. Much of that allotment has been eroded away, and only a few feet remain.
The cabin, originally built in the 1970’s, was deposited, intact, up river from its original location. It had been used primarily as a subsistence residence in recent years.
Newtok, Alaska: That wasn’t a landing, as much as it was an arrival.
When we landed in Newtok, the little airstrip was a hive of activity. Two small planes were parked at one end of the runway, with people, gear and supplies being quickly unloaded in the -20F degree air. Two men with four wheelers offered us rides on the back to the heart of the village: The School.
In the summer, Newtok is a village of boardwalks. The entire village is sinking into the tundra, with the melting of the permafrost, and many of the boardwalks will be under water when break up arrives.
Today though, the ground is frozen firm, and the village is encased in snow.
The Yup’ik village of Newtok, which roughly translates to “rustling of grass”, first saw a permanent settlement in 1949, although the ancestors of the residents have lived in the area for over 2000 years. By 1958, the BIA had built a school. The location was determined because it was the farthest up river that barges could bring in supplies.
The Ninglick River has been taking dozens of feet of shoreline annually by erosion, leaving much of Newtok balancing precariously. A new location for the village has been staked out 9 miles away at Mertarvik, which roughly translates as “good water” from Yup’ik. Approximately one third of the village moved across the river onto higher ground this past autumn.
The church of Newtok
The church was empty, as the priest travels from village to village. The sunset is glowing through the windows on the opposite side.
We spent a lot of time in the school, as it acted as a community center for the village. Everyone seemed to go through the school at some point. The teachers, administration, and students were all very welcoming, and I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction.
Bear, aka Dimitri
This little guy became our constant companion and guide. Bear would see us out walking from across the village, and he’d come running for us at a gallop. We often had a pack of village dogs following us, and competing for our attention when we were out & about. Like all the residents of Newtok, they were incredibly gracious hosts.
The flight to Newtok took us across a vast expanse of seemingly endless white. As far as one could see, from one horizon to the other, nothing but white. Out here, the wind is an artist, leaving mesmerizing patterns in the snow. Even in the air with two other people, I could feel the grip of isolation.
Earlier in the month, four children became lost in blizzard conditions out here, when they went out on a snow machine. It was not hard to imagine losing your bearing, especially when the wind picked up. The kids were found, huddled around the youngest to keep him warm. They were flown to Bethel with severe hypothermia, but they were alive, against long odds.
Newtok through the windshield
That’s the village of Newtok, with the airstrip dead ahead. It’s located on a bend in the Ningaluk River. River erosion and the melting of the permafrost is taking a huge toll on the village, forcing a move to a new location.