Kivalina slowly digs out from 20-foot snow drifts

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2001

KIVALINA (AP) -- Kivalina is up to its roof rafters in snow.

A four-day snowstorm last month left homes buried in 20-foot drifts. The drifts have some residents accessing their homes via windows or through tunnels down to their doors.

The village last week issued a Declaration of Emergency to the state Disaster Assistance Program. The Disaster Policy Committee met to discuss the situation and make a recommendation to Gov. Tony Knowles, who is expected to come up with a remedy this week.

''I've lived here all my life; I've seen drifts but this was horrible,'' said 51-year-old David Swan.

During the storm, snow drifted over his house, burying even his roofline. His neighbor rescued him by digging down to the front door and opening a hole large enough to hoist Swan through it.

Swan hasn't slept much since.

''I wanted to make sure we always had an opening so that we could get out if we needed to,'' Swan said. He also made sure the vent for his oil stove was clear to prevent backfiring into his home.

Many residences in this arctic community of 390 people built on a rapidly disappearing sand spit do not have windows that open, adding to the danger, said Colleen Koenig, administrator for the Indian Reorganization Act council.

The village does not own heavy equipment and locals have been shoveling snow into snowmachine sleds and dumping it on the ice surrounding the town. The Alaska State Department of Transportation granted permission for the village to use DOT airplane runway maintenance equipment, but the village was having trouble coming up with the money to rent the equipment.

The Inupiat Eskimo village is exposed to high winds in the summer and blizzards in the winter. The ocean is so close that during summer storms waves wash the walls of the school. Pieces of blown sea ice bounce off house walls. Last summer, airplanes had to taxi two feet from the encroaching sea after part of the runway eroded.

Since 1994, Kivalina has received state grants of about $26,000 each year for erosion control. For the last decade, village leaders have tried to gain funding to relocate the community to a more sheltered site about eight miles away.

Last year, the state Department of Transportation and other state agencies awarded a $240,000 grant for a three-mile access road from a barge landing to the relocation site, and the relocation project has received funding for design and for exploratory drilling for water and soil analysis for sewage disposal.

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