More Than 200 Evacuees Returning To Arctic Village After Storm

Friday, September 14th 2007, 9:40 pm
By: News On 6

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Flood evacuees from an Inupiat Eskimo village on Alaska's storm-besieged western coast began returning Friday and were relieved to find their property undamaged, officials said.

A storm surge and pounding waves Thursday sheared off large segments of Kivalina's multi-million dollar sea wall, but did not reach the weathered homes and other buildings on the slender strip of fine sand.

``I was worried because two of my sons stayed to work on the sea wall and a couple of my daughters were working in the city office,'' said Joe Swan, a 72-year-old elder and hunter. ``But we're here, we're home _ back to a normal life again.''

A flood warning by the National Weather Service had prompted a mass nighttime exodus Wednesday that left the tiny Arctic community of more than 300 people nearly deserted for the first time since it was settled a century ago.

About 100 residents, mostly elders and children, left on small planes for the regional hub city of Kotzebue, 80 miles to the south. Another 130 made a grueling 70-mile journey by boat, all-terrain vehicle and bus to the mountain headquarters of the Red Dog zinc mine.

Kivalina was virtually the only inhabited area under the flood warning along a 100-mile stretch of Chukchi Sea coast.

But it is one of three villages in western Alaska that will likely be forced to relocate within the next 10 to 15 years because of erosion, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps said in a report last year that it would cost up to $355 million to move Kivalina, Newtok and Shishmaref.

The community sits on a 600 foot-wide sand reef, 625 miles northwest of Anchorage and 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It has lost about 100 feet of coastline in the past three years to waves and storm surges, said tribal administrator Colleen Swan, one of Joe Swan's eight daughters.

Vice Mayor Enoch Adams said the community is disappointed in the wall's performance and plans to request more state and federal money to build a new one.