Now that floodwaters have receded, Hooper Bay looks to recovery

Hooper Bay was one of the communities hardest hit by this weekend’s historic storm when a typhoon battered thousands of miles of Alaska’s west coast with high winds and flood waters.

With many Hooper Bay households still without power on Sunday, the school was a hub for the community.

On Friday, the school housed more than a hundred people. That number grew to more than 300 on Saturday and Sunday, it was serving around a thousand people for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Other community members brought in food, including moose meat, taken out of someone’s freezer after fears it would spoil during the power outage. It turned out there was enough moose stew to feed everyone.

Brittany Taraba, assistant manager, said spirits have improved a lot since the height of the storm.

“The gusts of wind were clocking between 90 and 95 miles per hour. It was like a howl, the way he hit the building,” Taraba said. “It’s quite a scary situation for an adult, but for a small child who might not understand, especially younger ones who show up and they would be upset and cry.”

Taraba said some teachers came to school and played games with the children to distract them, to give their parents time to settle in and make plans.

There was a scare at one point on Saturday when a college boy went missing. But a search party found him, and Taraba says she saw him at school, having fun playing with other children.

Classrooms have been opened for families to sleep in. A special room has been reserved for elderly people vulnerable to COVID. People came to the school to take showers and charge their cell phones and other electrical devices as the school has its own generator and one of the few places with electricity in the community.

Hooper Bay tribal leader Edgar Tall Jr. was among those who took refuge at the school the first night. He says he has never experienced anything like this storm in his entire life. Now that the water has receded, he says the community can start assessing the damage.

One of the first things they noticed was that their beach got smaller, the storm took on a large swath, which Tall says may have saved the community from more harm. He says two families have completely lost their homes. Many more will need roof repairs. Debris is strewn throughout the village, but the airport has been cleared for use. Tall says the community’s water system has been damaged, but his water source appears to be safe and once power is fully restored, recovery can begin. On Sunday, Governor Dunleavy said Hooper Bay was under a boil water advisory, along with the communities of Elim and Unalakleet.

The vice principal of Hooper Bay School says she was struck by the resilience of the community and how the storm brought out the best in everyone.

“There were people who opened their homes to displaced families. We had a family that completely lost their home. And they’ve already had a whole bunch of clothing donations to make sure they have immediate needs met,” Taraba said. “The community became one giant family, and the community did everything they could to help each other.”

A pressing need for the school is bottled water. Taraba says the school has a water filter system, but cannot meet the water demand.

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