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Storms batter Alaska coast

Posted By November 11, 2011 | 11:41 am | National
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic parish and the Catholic radio station in Nome, Alaska -- with a population of 3,600, one of the largest outposts on the western Alaska coast -- escaped the worst of the damage wrought by a severe storm that slammed into the state from the Bering Sea. St. Joseph Parish and KNOM, a radio ministry of the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, were largely spared because they were three blocks inland from the shore. Homes and businesses within two blocks of the shore were strongly advised to evacuate because of the storm, which lasted two days. Nome recorded wind gusts as high at 61 mph. Ric Schmidt, KNOM's general manager, said the intensity of the storm was equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.

Storms batter Alaska coast; Catholic institutions largely spared

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Catholic parish and the Catholic radio station in Nome, Alaska — with a population of 3,600, one of the largest outposts on the western Alaska coast — escaped the worst of the damage wrought by a severe storm that slammed into the state from the Bering Sea.
St. Joseph Parish and KNOM, a radio ministry of the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, were largely spared because they were three blocks inland from the shore. Homes and businesses within two blocks of the shore were strongly advised to evacuate because of the storm, which lasted two days.
Nome recorded wind gusts as high at 61 mph. Ric Schmidt, KNOM’s general manager, said the intensity of the storm was equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.
“It’s really calmed down” as of the morning of Nov. 10, Schmidt told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview the same day. “Today’s going to be an assessment of damage. There’s one missing person. We don’t know if it was to be clear of the storm, or if they’re genuinely missing.”
“The villages on St. Lawrence Island got it worst,” Schmidt said. “They had wind gusts of 80-85 mph.”
Schmidt first worked at KNOM from 1984 to 1986, and has been there since he returned in 1995. He said longtime Nome residents told him that the storm was equivalent to a 1974 storm and one in 1913. “So that makes it three storms of this magnitude in the past century.”
He added that more water rushed into Nome from the Bering Sea during a 2004 storm, “but we’ve had more erosion (since then) due to global warming or whatever you want to call it.”
At the storm’s height Nov. 9, shelters in Nome opened to care for those residents who had to evacuate their home at risk of inundation by the waves. The only other places open in the town, besides KNOM, were a few stores, the hospital, and a medical clinic, and that’s pretty much it.
The storm carried heavy snows with it. The temperature on the western Alaskan coast hovered near the freezing point.
Storms with this level of ferocity have occurred before, but “the Bering Sea was frozen over” in those episodes, Schmidt said, resulting in far less snow and flooding.
Father Ross Tozzi, pastor at St. Joseph, said he received no calls for help during the worst of the storm. “If someone had called, I would have responded,” he added. “There were advisories not to be out and about, because rocks were blowing across Front Street, at certain times, and there were some tin roofs that got peeled, so there was some flying tin. There was an advisory to stay indoors.
At the time he would normally go out to visit the jail, be stayed put, because the winds “were up to — I heard — 70 miles an hour,” Father Tozzi said. “Discretion was the better part of valor.”
KNOM’s Schmidt said the flying rocks weighed as much as 150-200 pounds each, and one piece of flying tin “sliced into a (power) line and we had quite a Fourth of July fireworks show.” He added that the wind gusts pushed ice from the Bering Straits onto the beach.
Father Tozzi said it was the worst storm he had ever seen, but “I was very calm throughout the storm, because I have a very great confidence it he people who prepare ahead of these things.”
The morning after the storm, the proprietor of the Polar Cafe in Nome called KNOM to say, “We’re back in business,” Schmidt told CNS.

PHOTO: This composite infrared imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellites taken Nov. 9 shows a massive storm moving over the Bering Strait region, bringing heavy winds and flooding to western Alaska. The Catholic parish and the Catholic radio station in Nome, Alaska -Ð with a population of 3,600, one of the largest outposts on the western Alaska coast Ð- was spared the worst of damage wrought by the severe storm. (CNS photo/NOAA handout via Reuters)