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Storm surge in Alaska pulls homes from their foundations

A home is seen floating in the Snake River near Nome, Alaska, on Sept. 17.Peggy Fagerstrom/Associated Press

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Communities along Alaska’s western coast faced widespread flooding Saturday as a powerful storm — the remnants of Typhoon Merbok — roared across the Bering Sea, with wind gusts tearing the siding off buildings and a storm surge pulling homes from their foundations.

The impact was felt across hundreds of miles of coastline as the storm raked the state from south to north. In Nome, raging waters pushed into six of the city’s streets, including part of Front Street, near where mushers finish the Iditarod sled dog race. In Chevak, about 200 miles south, images showed sheds floating in tumbling waves next to sunken boats.

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In Golovin, about 70 miles east of Nome, Dean Peterson said water had jumped the 20-foot berm that protects the community of 170 people, rushing through the lower-lying areas, pulling three homes from their foundations and destroying another.

People in the community scrambled to rescue an older adult from his home, and many evacuated to take shelter in the school, which itself was not fully protected.

“The school is completely surrounded by water,” Peterson said. He said he did not know of any injuries.

John Handeland, the mayor of Nome, said Saturday morning that there were no reports of injuries in his community but that the storm surge flooded several roads, pushing driftwood and debris into town.

“And the tide still seems to be going up,” he said. Forecasters expected water levels to peak in Nome on Saturday afternoon.

Forecasters said the storm’s size and strength made it one of the most powerful systems to move through the Bering Sea area in decades, with waves north of the Aleutian Islands peaking at 50 feet high Friday. Many communities experienced wind gusts that were close to hurricane strength.

Emergency responders from local, state, federal and tribal agencies were assessing the situation and preparing to deploy. The region includes many communities that have small populations, a few hundred people or fewer, and that are not connected by roads, making a broad response challenging.

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The airplane runways used to transport goods to individual communities also posed logistical issues for response efforts; photos showed that some of them appeared to be covered in water Saturday.

That morning, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said on Facebook that he had verbally declared a disaster for the communities hit by the storm. He added that the state emergency operations center had not received any reports of injuries. The Alaska State Troopers said they were prepared to assist with search and rescue efforts if it became necessary.

In Hooper Bay, west of Chevak, resident Angivran Joe said one home in the community hit by the storm surge was knocked off its foundation while another home across the street from it began to fall apart. Some fuel tanks in the community were tipped over. And many were without electricity after the storm knocked out power, he said, although he added that some were now using generators.

“The whole town is blacked out,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.