Disaster Response in an Alaska Village is a Team Effort

December 08, 2022
Submitted by Jim Robison-Cox

Elias and Frieda Stone were flooded out of their home in Hooper Bay, Alaska on September 18th when the remains of Typhoon Merbok brought record-breaking storm surge to villages on the western coast of Alaska.  You can see footage of the storm on this Alaska news site.
The Stones are now in temporary housing thanks to many different groups -- faith-based groups, government entities, and emergency responders -- who have worked together to help the Stones and others in Hooper Bay.
 Locally, the Tribal Council and the town of Hooper Bay (1300 residents) have received money from the state and FEMA and are repairing homes damaged by the storm.  Primary goals have been to repair roofs and to rebuild entry porches. In this climate, it's very important to have two doors between heated spaces and the cold raw wind which sweeps through this coastal community so every home has an "arctic entry."
Elias and Frieda needed more than just repair. Their home was ruined and they were in a church-run shelter in Hooper Bay. A week after the storm about 40 people sheltered at the church. Six weeks later the Stones were the last family living in the shelter and needed to find a  place to live as winter fast approached. The long-term plan is for them to rebuild on higher ground next summer, but until then they will live with their daughter Anna and son-in-law Max Green and two kids. Like most homes in Hooper Bay, Max and Anna’s place is small – just 20 by 20', and they really didn't have room for Elias & Frieda.  The temporary solution is to add on to the Green's home to give the Stones a room of their own.  Making that happen has involved many different groups of people working together.
At this point, let’s look at how the state of Alaska and how United Methodists handle disasters like this one. A call for help for a community usually starts with a local UM pastor and works its way to district and conference levels. In Alaska, the Conference Disaster Coordinator is Rev. Dan Wilcox who serves churches in Wasilla and Palmer (an hour from Anchorage).  Dan also chairs the State VOAD group -- Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster -- so he has contacts with Red Cross, Salvation Army, state disaster services, and many other groups.  As the storm surge hit, people from these many organizations planned how to help folks affected and worked to deliver help to small communities far from population centers.  As the conference coordinator, Dan organized Alaskan Early Response Teams. It was soon obvious that more help would be needed so Pastor Dan sent out a call to other conference disaster coordinators in the Western Jurisdiction. As a result, three trained "Early Responders" from Mountain Sky Conference came to Hooper Bay. These ERTs from Montana, Utah, and Colorado spent a week adding on to the Green's home so that Stones will soon be able to move in.  Before we got there, other Methodists and Mennonite work groups had torn off the entry on the Greens' house and built a new floor for a 16' by 20' addition. They had framed in a new arctic entryway and covered it with a tarp. Our Mountain Sky crew built outside walls, hauled trusses that Elias had salvaged from the Stones' house, and set them up (tied in with hurricane clips).  On the last afternoon of the week, we were able to raise the last truss and finish sheeting the roof despite strong winds.  After we left, a team of seven from Assemblies of God church came and finished the addition by wiring, insulating, sheeting walls, and applying metal roofing. After eight weeks in the shelter, Elias and Frieda were able to move into this real home.
The people of Hooper Bay and the whole Bering Sea coast still have a long road of recovery ahead of them. They will have to decide whether the town site needs to move away from the sea coast. Please be watching for opportunities next summer (UMVIM trips) to help Alaskans rebuild and prayerfully consider how you might be involved.  It takes a team of people and organizations to enable recovery.