Last November, Western Alaska was battered by one of the worst storms on record. Hurricane-force winds, along with rain and snow slammed the coastline, destroying property and flooding communities. One of the hardest hit villages was Kotlik, a community of about 600. The storm came in fast and many were unprepared.
“It was very devastating, I have not seen it that bad before, the Elders haven’t seen it before,” said Richard Akaran, head of Kotlik Search and Rescue.
Surging seawater and ice destroyed the village’s sewer and distribution lines and damaged homes. The water came in quickly and many families became trapped. Members of the Kotlik Search and Rescue team spent the next several hours rescuing families from the flooding.
“We had to struggle through the ice to get to the homes to rescue the families. It wasn’t very fun,” said Richard.
As the floodwater raced through town, one man was swept off a boardwalk and nearly drowned. “He was submerged but luckily there was a telephone pole he hung on to. Just imagine you are holding onto something and the force is pulling you. His body was almost at a 45-degree angle as he was holding onto the pole. It was very frightening at the time,” said Richard.
Richard helped rescue the man and more than a dozen other people. The Kotlik Search and Rescue crew and City Manager Lori Mike used boats to take people to safety, housing several at the local school. According to the American Red Cross of Alaska, more than 100 Kotlik residents needed assistance after the storm and 31 homes were affected, totaling more than a half million dollars in damages. In the months that followed organizations like the Red Cross, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and Calista donated supplies and helped with clothing drives.
Even though the community was damaged by flood waters and ice, thanks to the hard work of Kotlik Search and Rescue, no one was injured in the storm. Because of their efforts, the Red Cross honored Richard and Lori at the 2014 Real Heroes Breakfast. Richard accepted the award for Community Safety last month, in recognition of the Search and Rescue team’s actions during the storm.
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