40-year Bering Sea storm thrashing Alaska

In a Tuesday Nov. 8, 2011 photo, Nome kids plays in sea foam near the Nome harbor late Tuesday evening, Nov. 8, 2011 as the big Bering Sea storm starts kicking up in Nome, Alaska.
AP Photo

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - One of the most powerful storms to hit western Alaska in nearly 40 years battered coastal communities Wednesday with hurricane-force winds, forcing some residents to seek higher ground as it knocked out power and ripped up roofs.

As the storm churned the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska, people braced for a possible surge of sea water into coastal communities.

"People out there are used to extreme weather, but this is not a normal storm," said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the state's emergency management agency. "This is of a magnitude that can be a storm of record, extremely dangerous, and the state is treating it as such."

Water had reached homes in at least four Native villages, including Tununak and Kipnuk, state emergency managers said.

Zidek said no injuries had been reported, and damage so was largely limited to blown-out windows and battered roofs.

The highest wind gusts recorded — 89 mph (142 kph) — were at the western tip of the Seward Peninsula, said Bob Fischer, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

In Nome — the biggest of the coastal communities with about 3,600 residents — the storm knocked out power for several hours before sunrise. Winds were expected to remain strong throughout Wednesday.

Residents near the seawall that protects the historic gold mining town from the Bering Sea were asked to voluntarily evacuate Tuesday night.

The last time forecasters saw something similar was in November 1974, when Nome took the brunt of another storm. The sea surge it created measured more than 13 feet (3.9 meters).

Winton Weyapuk, president of the Wales Village Corp., said the community suffered more lost sleep than damage.

"People said they were worried," Weyapuk said. "When the wind gusted here, it was pretty loud inside their homes."

Officials feared a lack of shore-fast sea ice would leave Nome and Native villages sprinkled along the coast vulnerable to sea surges.

Zidek noted there have been no reports of toppled fuel tanks or toxic spills.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Coast Guard said early Wednesday it had received no calls from vessels seeking help from the storm.