Covenant communities of faith are beginning the process of rebuilding after a massive storm caused flooding and left widespread debris across the cities, towns, and villages of western Alaska. Typhoon Merbok, a hurricane-level storm across the Bering Sea, pounded over a thousand miles of Alaskan coastline. Its equivalent on the mainland would stretch from San Diego, California (south of Los Angeles), all the way to Skagit County, Washington (60 miles north of Seattle). “This storm was massive by any standard,” said Alaska Conference associate superintendent Brian Nanninga.
Nanninga says Alaskans are used to storms—even severe ones. But usually they hit when everything is frozen over. This one happened before the winter freeze. “Not only were there 80- to 90-mile-an-hour winds,” said Nanninga, “but very high tides between ten and 18 feet of water over the normal level.”
It’s particularly devastating for many of the small villages situated by the shore or by rivers that feed into the ocean, because this is the time of year where many Indigenous residents are engaged in seasonal fishing for subsistence.
“In many of our villages we have flood and wind damage. Our community in Nome had a house that floated off its foundation until it got stuck under a bridge. The parsonage at our church in Mountain Village had its roof ripped off, which we’ll have to replace the roof before winter comes. That will be difficult and expensive because the only way to access Mountain Village this time of year is by airplane. In Hooper Bay, 20 people are living in the church because they don’t have homes to return to.”
Nanninga says local communities are good at pulling together, and many are beginning the process of rebuilding. But the need is daunting. Many churches are led by lay leaders with other vocational responsibilities, so they were in acute need of pastoral care even before the storm. “We would love to have pastors in all of these communities, but there just haven’t been enough,” says Nanninga. “We would love any retired pastors who feel like they have something left in the tank and who wouldn’t mind coming down for a week, a month, or a season of pastoral care, to come out.”
Donations to support the rebuilding effort in Alaska can be made via the Covenant Domestic Disaster Response giving portal.
This story is rapidly unfolding and will be updated as we receive more information.