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Bering Sea storm packing 60 mph winds damages roofs in Nome, Alaska, sends residents inland
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) ' High winds and surging waves pummeled Alaska's western coast Wednesday, churning the Bering Sea and forcing residents of Nome and isolated native villages to seek higher ground inland.
"We do have some reports of buildings losing roofs in the Nome area," said meteorologist Scott Berg at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks. "Also water at the base of buildings in Nome."
Communications officer Zane Brown said the height of snow and hurricane-force winds hit at about 2 a.m. He said a voluntary evacuation has moved residents from beachfront businesses and homes to shelters at a community center and a church.
Planning section chief Mark Roberts of the state emergency operations center tells KTUU-TV that west coast communities were reporting isolated power and communications interruptions. But he said it's too early for a complete picture of damage.
Nome continues to prepare for a possible Bering Sea surge at high tide later in the morning, Brown said.
The last time forecasters saw something similar was in November 1974, when Nome took the brunt of another storm. That sea surge measured more than 13 feet, pushing beach driftwood above the level of the previous storm of its type in 1913.
Officials also are concerned for Alaska Natives in the 18 villages in the region.
The village of Point Hope, which sits on the tip of a peninsula with the Arctic Ocean on one side and the Bering Sea on the other, is 7 to 8 feet above sea level, said Mayor Steve Oomittuk.
The Inupiat Eskimo village of about 700 people has no sea wall and no evacuation road. If evacuation becomes necessary, everyone will go to the school because it sits on higher ground and is big enough to accommodate everyone, he said.
Smaller communities that are vulnerable to storm erosion were of particular concern, especially the village of Kivalina, already one of the state's most threatened communities because of erosion.
In Nome, some homes close to the ocean have been evacuated, but there are no reports of injuries, Berg said.
A storm surge could bring more severe flooding later Wednesday in the Nome area, he said.
Blizzard conditions prevailed overnight in quite a few places with sustained winds of 60 mph and gusts to 80 mph.
Berg said big low-pressure systems hit Alaska often, but this one is different because of the track it took and because ice hasn't formed yet to protect the shore.
"Because we don't have shore-fast ice this time of year, that's what's significant," he said. "Just hasn't got cold enough yet. We have open water generally until the first of December."
The unusual storm had western Alaska bracing Tuesday. Tiny coastal communities were at particular risk for damage from wind and expected flooding.
Winds had already reached 80 mph late Tuesday, said Neil Murakami, a National Weather Service forecaster in Anchorage.
The storm surge could produce seven-foot rise in sea levels, which would cause heavy flooding, said meteorologist Stephen Kearney in Fairbanks.
State emergency management officials said some residents in the storm's path headed for emergency shelters Tuesday.
Seventy miles north of Nome in the village of Brevig Mission, teacher AnnMarie Rudstrom had made plans to move her family to higher ground from their home on a spit separating the village lagoon and the ocean.
The ocean by Tuesday afternoon had started to churn in shades of gray.
"It's pretty ominous looking and the waves are getting bigger," Rudstrom said.
State officials warned residents in harm's way to secure home heating fuel tanks in case sea water flooded into communities.
The windows were boarded up Tuesday at the Polar Cafe, a popular restaurant that faces the ocean in Nome.
Items stored in the basement had been carried upstairs and were in one of the hotel rooms, said waitress Andrea Surina. Plans were being made to move the propane tanks to a safer spot, she said.
Associated Press writer Carson Walker in Phoenix contributed to this report.