Coast Guard Sector Anchorage members returned to Anchorage Monday after response efforts in 32 Arctic and Western Alaska communities following the impacts of Typhoon Merbok.
Sector Anchorage used the expeditionary operations deployment model to rapidly send emergency response teams into 32 remote villages to conduct damage assessments to bulk fuel storage facilities and marine headers within seven days of Typhoon Merbok making landfall. While in the field, these teams also identified a pollution concern that required an immediate response.
Chevak was the only community where recoverable pollution was observed and a contracted cleanup was required. Approximately 1,000 gallons of various fuel products were dispersed across a beach from containers ranging from one-gallon jugs to 55-gallon drums. Global Diving and Salvage was contracted to remove oiled debris from the site. Subcontractors with Alaska Chadux Network and locally contracted residents in Chevak assisted with the cleanup, that was almost complete Wednesday.
Coast Guard teams comprised of facility inspectors and pollution responders were based out of Bethel, Nome and Kotzebue, and deployed to smaller coastal communities from these hubs daily via Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters, an Alaska Army National Guard helicopter and contracted flights. Coast Guard teams conducted public safety and pollution assessments. Fuel storage and transfer facilities were assessed for structural integrity and safe use. Throughout the entire response, the Coast Guard teams maintained communication with the State Emergency Operations Center, FEMA, EPA, and the Department of Environmental Conservation, among others.
A Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircrew from Air Station Kodiak conducted an overflight of the affected areas Saturday, providing Coast Guard leaders, FEMA personnel and Alaska politicians an aerial view in the wake of the storm.
Capt. Leanne Lusk, commander, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, provided a narrative of Coast Guard response efforts for Adm. Nathan Moore, commander, 17th Coast Guard District, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Congresswoman Mary Peltola, FEMA Administrators Deanne Criswell and Willie Nunn and Bryan Fisher, Director at Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The group landed in Nome and met with local leaders to discuss recovery progress and future assistance.
Numerous recently-formed relationships established during the summer months as part of Sector Anchorage’s Marine Safety Task Force (MSTF) missions, allowed the Coast Guard to operate successfully.
“Coast Guard Sector Anchorage personnel conduct year-round operations throughout the Arctic and Western portions of Alaska,” said Lusk. “The success of these operations relies heavily on the relationships with other Federal, Tribal, State, and local partners.”
Through consistent presence, Sector Anchorage personnel have gained understanding of at-risk facilities, and partner with other agencies who can provide grants and assistance, like the State of Alaska’s Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA), to provide support to remote villages.
These efforts increase confidence in the communities’ critical infrastructure that provides the fuel to power their generators, heat their homes, and run their vehicles. If a bulk fuel facility experiences a significant breech, the resultant spill could be catastrophic to the communities who depend on the land, rivers, and seas that allow their traditional subsistence-based lifestyles to continue.
Coast Guard Sector Anchorage’s Arctic and Western Alaska operations from 2019-2022 positioned unit personnel to quickly respond to affected communities following Typhoon Merbok’s landfall.
FEMA recognized Coast Guard Sector Anchorage’s unique skill set and extensive knowledge of remote Alaska communities, and requested the Coast Guard support their Incident Management Team. Coast Guard members will provide expeditionary emergency response expertise to aid in planning and coordination for FEMA’s individual assistance program for approximately 500 households across the disaster-affected area.