Hurricane-force wind sent sheets of metal roofing and other debris flying Wednesday night in False Pass as a powerful spring storm ripped through the tiny village, which sits on Unimak Island on the tip of the Alaska Peninsula. Winds of 100 miles per hour roared through an Aleutian Island village on Thursday, ripping roofs off buildings, blowing out windows and causing structures to collapse. (Left: map of affected area(in red box).
The damage in False Pass, a tiny fishing village on Unimak Island, made it among the worst-hit parts of the state in a fierce winter storm that moved in from the Bering Sea.
Wind gusts topping 100 mph were recorded Wednesday at home weather stations in the village. An official National Weather Service station in King Cove, about 50 miles to the northeast, registered 94 mph, a forecaster said.
The roof of the public safety building and doors to the building's ambulance bay were partially ripped off by the wind, windows in the village's medical clinic were blown out and similar damage was inflicted on several private homes, according to regional government the Aleutians East Borough.
As the storm picked up Wednesday afternoon, wind and rain ripped apart the home of a teacher's aide, where she lived with her elderly mother and three nephews, soaking their belongings inside, village residents said.
"The seam on the center of the top of her house blew off, and then one whole side of the sheeting on her house blew off," said teacher and principal Ward Walker. "The driving rain just went down and flooded her whole roof. Her house is just really ruined right now so she's the one who's really in a bad way right now."
The high winds seen in parts of Alaska were the product of what the National Weather Service called "a dynamic and dangerous storm" in the central Bering Sea.
Many of the village's 35 year-round residents were away fishing or working on their boats elsewhere, those who remained were picking up pieces of their community Thursday and bracing for more high wind by nighttime.
"Mostly it's just the womenfolk, three or four adults and about seven kids," said Cindy Beamer, who manages the village corporation. "It was kind of wicked out here, and it's supposed to pick up again tonight."
False Pass residents know about strong wind, said Ruth Hoblet, the mayor's wife. Hoblet's lived there for 30-plus years, she said, and this was was one of the worst storms she had seen.
"It's blown 100 here before, I know, but it lasted so long is what it did. It's the duration of the wind for so long is why it started tearing things apart," Hoblet said.
The wind blew the roof off teacher's aide Siri Jonnson's house around 2 p.m., and that's when Jonnson's family and Hoblet, along with two grandchildren, headed for cover at the school.
Hoblet guessed the wind at Jonnson's house was swifter than at her house, where she has a wind gauge that registered 101 mph.
"I came down to my house at 8 o'clock last night and checked it, and it was still blowing like 70," Hoblet said. "So 70 was pretty nice."
Seven of them, including Walker, stayed holed up at the school overnight and watched the chaos outside, Hoblet said. "We watched a lot of stuff fly," Hoblet said.
"We had 55-gallon barrels blowing through the village, we had sheet metal blowing through the village," said Walker. "Big old totes blowing through the village like tumbleweeds, smashing into the sides of buildings."
Other damage around the village included a window blown in at the village clinic, buildings blown over at the old Peter Pan fish processing plant, empty homes with siding and roofs ripped off, and a large ATV that flipped over.
Inside the school, they cooked split-pea soup and watched movies, Walker said. Internet hardware on the roof blew off, as did a small weather station.
The wind had calmed after breakfast to about 40 mph, "par for the course," Walker said.
Across the village, residents worked to remove wet furniture and carpeting from Jonnson's house Thursday.
"She's the one we're really concerned about," Walker said. "Her whole house is just soaking wet."
Reuters,"High winds rip roofs off buildings in Alaska village",accessed April 7, 2011
Anchorage Daily News, "Hurricane-force wind slams False Pass", by Casey Grove, accessed April 7, 2011