Epic Storm Hits Point Hope, Alaska

Looking out a high school window, we watched our sturdy home strain against hurricane force winds.

Monday, November 7, 2011. We watched the NOAA reports as a violent storm was pounding the Aleutian chain on its way northeast up the Bering Strait. On Tuesday morning, we headed to school as usual. The storm was supposed to hit our village hard at 9 p.m. All in the village were abuzz with the coming storm. A double warning had been issued – hurricane force winds and storm surges. The last storm of this magnitude to hit Point Hope was in 1974. I’m not sure how much of the town had moved to the new site (our current site) by then, but we heard stories that the underground storage areas had been flooded and some of the surge waters had made their way into the village.

The students were asking all sorts of questions: Will it flood? What would a 15-foot wave look like? Have you ever been in a hurricane? We tackled all the questions and found a video to watch about weather as the wind picked up outside and near whiteout conditions obscured the post office from view just across the street from the school.

In the late morning, the decision was made that the students should be sent home. The school bus (yes, this small village has a school bus!) delivered the students safely home and our staff prepared to turn the school into an emergency shelter.

Later, Jack and I tucked in at home. In anticipation of losing power, we charged our phone and laptop, set out flashlights, candles and matches, and filled our water bottles.  By late afternoon, the wind had been whipping through the town. Since there are no trees, it was difficult to visually assess the wind speed. The internet said 23 mph, then 39 mph, then 53 mph, gusts were being reported to 90 mph. Our house began shaking as the gusts grew heavier, and framed pictures on the walls were moving. The heavy wooden doors on an outside cabinet that houses our propane tank began creaking on their hinges and banging open and shut. We could hear the wind roaring through the village.

Through the worsening conditions, our sturdy little house generated confidence. No matter how it shook and shuddered, we were sure it would hold together.

At 5:00 AM, we awoke to fierce winds and no power.

The school had officially become the village’s emergency shelter. Families streamed in with blankets and cots for the elders and sleeping bags and air mattresses for the young. Our school is fairly large. One wing houses the elementary, one wing houses the high school with the middle school,  a small gym (which also operates as a cafeteria) and a large gym in the center. There was ample room to house the 500 people who ended up in the school. Our terrific cafeteria staff worked diligently to feed all the guests breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some rooms became quiet rooms for elders. Other rooms held whole families including nursing mothers and pets.

It was reported that a transformer had been knocked out, utility poles had been snapped, and wires were hanging loose. The high winds precluded linemen from flying out to our village. No one panicked. I think people knew the storm would pass, the winds would calm, the ocean waters would recede and power would be restored.

This morning, when the winds had quieted, Jack and I walked to the coast. The ocean waters were still roiling and the waves were still crashing against the shore. But it was only in the way a tantrumming child beats his fists to the ground when he is nearly out of steam. A seven foot bank of snow was packed up against the berm. The waves hammered away at the bank, evidenced by floating chunks of snow in the waves.

With the winds nearly blown out, planes were finally able to land, delivering the linemen. With steady work from one end of the town to the other, power was restored in it’s own wave from east to west. By about 4:30 p.m. most of the village of Point Hope was lit and houses were warming–and luckily so at that because had the outage lasted longer, there surely would have been frozen and burst water pipes in the freezing cold. The epic storm of 2011 is officially over.

13 thoughts on “Epic Storm Hits Point Hope, Alaska

  1. Having taught in Pt Hope from 1966-1967 I always follow your news. We were there before the move. I am sooo glad the village weathered this as it has so many storms before, strongly and well. My very best to Pt Hopers everywhere. My brief stay there was a deep andd fascinating experience.
    Thankk you for your excellent reporting.

  2. Thanks for “liking” my Fox & Hare post. I’m enrolled in Tikigaq Corp. and lived in Point Hope when I was Four. Was last there for the water & sewer projects in the 90’s. Great narration of the event.

  3. Hi Barbra and Jack. I’m sitting here in my warm home with Wendy and here boys. Wendy has a fur collared parka on inside our warm house. Sad but true. She is reading this and laughing so I can’t say much but she says she would love to come visit – winter looks like the best time. She says then the days are shorter, darker, and would be more cozy. Can you believe that!!!!

    She gave me your Website awhile back and I periodically check your pictures and the text. I enjoy both and am impressed with the life you have chosen. Not for the faint of heart. I can imagine the experiences you have lived through. I’m sure there are highs and lows. But I think the positive outweighs all. You are really living life.

    I lived and worked in Liberia, West Africa years ago. That was the first time I ever traveled outside California and since then my wife and I have lived, worked and traveled in/to many places. When we were in Liberia, Wendy and Erika lived with their mom. I had remarried and my wife (now of 40 years) and her four children went with us. It was the third year of our marriage and it turned out to be a real bonding experience and brought our (new) family together. We had no clue what it would be like and certainly was not as difficult or primative as your experience. We had no TV, no phone, electricity and water was questionable as were the potential bugs. Our family had to do everything together, eat dinner togetter, play games for entertainment, etc. I didn’t live in a primitive area but did live in a more rural area outside the capital, Monrovia. We lived at the top of a hill overlooking a river and across the river, toward the city, was a village. It was really beautiful.

    Well, just thought I’d say hi. I envy you. Wendy sends her warm wishes for a happy and prosperous? new year. Steve

    • Steve,
      Thanks so much for keeping up with us. Like your life, we do mostly non-TV, non-mainstream activities. Fortunately we are really good at entertaining ourselves and each other! I guess the best word for life is “fascinating.” There are lows…teaching is really precarious up here with such a transient workforce. We can’t count on who we will work for or with. The highs are numerous. We have “once in a lifetime summers” every summer. I’m always amazed at all the skills we learn and the things we learn about. Interestingly, we have met more people from around the globe since we have moved here. The move was definitely a cure for the “rut.”

      I’m thrilled you are following the blog. I’m glad you have nice visits with Wendy and the boys. I do have to admit that I giggled when I thought of her fur-collared parka…oh, Wendy, I have a real fur-collared parka! Happy New Year!

  4. I’m writing this in 2018, having sat through Hurricane Irma in a school while working with the Red Cross in 2017. I can’t imagine facing these forces and the cold too.

    • Thanks for the comment. We had similar thoughts as we contemplated what it would have been like to weather a storm like this in the past – in the days before electric generators and modern buildings. Such an experience gives a whole new meaning to “hunker down and wait it out.”

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