Akiak Declares Erosion Disaster

(Left) Akiak before the flooding. (Right) Akiak after the flooding that has caused the city to declare a disaster. Photos by Mark Arehart, KYUK - Bethel

The village of Akiak is under siege. Due to extreme erosion, the City and Native Community have declared a state of disaster. Officials say the shoreline of the Kuskokwim River has eroded nearly 200 feet in just one month’s time. The people of Akiak are losing land and memories at an alarming rate.

The shoreline of Akiak is jagged. Clumps of earth the size of pickup trucks are sinking into the river. Treetops not yet relieved of their leaves, can be seen creeping up from the water.

Here the erosion has come quickly and steadily, taking foot after foot of the village with it.

“We can’t even go up there anymore,”Olga Charles said, standing on the shore as rain pours down over her face. “This is something else.”

There is a huge semi circle of freshly eroded earth in front of her.  She’s looking off into the trees, where a dirt road full of memories once stood.

“This is sad,” Charles said. “We can’t even go up to my house anymore.”

The house Charles grew up in is gone, moved piece by piece because the erosion threat.

Now the ground on which it once sat is gone, too, with it about 40 feet of earth, in just hours.

“Because when I came down this morning it wasn’t like this – I don’t know,” Charles said.

Erosion has been a constant threat for decades here in Akiak, a village of just over 300 about 30-river miles above Bethel. But it’s never happened this quickly or this violently before.

Fall’s usually low water has been replaced with screaming wind and high, furious tides.

Mike Williams Sr. says this is some of the highest water he’s ever seen in the village he’s called home for 60 years.

“I think the wind is gonna pick up a little bit, and it’s picking up since this morning and I need to move my boats from my dog yard,” Williams said.

Williams’, an Iditarod veteran, has over 40 dogs just yards from the shore.

He’s also the Secretary/Treasurer for Akiak Native Community, which in conjunction with the City of Akiak, have declared a state of disaster.

Over the weekend the community sent letters to the Governor’s office and the Federal Emergency Management Agency requesting assistance.

Williams says they need to stop the soil hemorrhaging as quickly as possible and the city is in dire needs of funds and supplies.

“So if they could dump rock along this bank, it could help mitigate some of this being eroded right now,” he said.

Williams says that would help stem the tide until the river freezes in a few months, but that a permanent solution like a sea wall or levee system needs to be installed.

The community hasn’t heard back from the governor or FEMA.  So the people will just wait and hope the river stays fed and doesn’t come for much more.

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