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AmeriCorps Goes North to Aid Alaska Flood Recovery

by Paula Katrina Drago

On June 25, President Obama made a federal disaster declaration for parts of Alaska along the Yukon River due to ice jam-related flooding from May 17 to June 11. On cue, a team of AmeriCorps members soon arrived in the remote village of Galena to help people there begin to recover.

AmeriCorps members move tables and other supplies to assist with the flood recovery in Galena, Alaska.Flooding affected villages along a 1,200-mile stretch of the Yukon in the United States – a distance roughly the length of the Mississippi River from Minneapolis, MN, to Vicksburg, MS. The ice blockage sent water flowing into Galena and other villages along the river, flooding homes, schools, and other critical infrastructure.

Response efforts to Galena were unlike any other flood response as the town is only accessible by plane and barge (and only plane once the river freezes up in early fall). The logistics of moving people and resources in and out of the village poses some unique challenges, and any work that isn’t complete by the time winter arrives in late September won’t be resumed until May.

AmeriCorps members arrived in Galena on July 13, two weeks after FEMA made the official federal disaster declaration. Within an hour of landing, they were in the field beginning the critical work of repairing the community. Since their arrival, AmeriCorps members have:

  • Gathered more than 100 homeowner work-order requests for volunteer assistance and established a collaborative work order and dispatch process for the Galena area.
  • Completed more than 70 work orders.
  • Collected and distributed 500+ pounds of food, 40+ pounds of clothes, and 5,600+ pounds of other supplies
  • Provided direct volunteer management support to over 30 volunteers.

AmeriCorps members are supporting shelter operations and helping residents muck and gut, remove debris, and repair their homes, but that’s only a snapshot of the national service response. For a more detailed picture of what AmeriCorps is doing in Galena, watch the video below and read a member’s account of her team’s experience. 

Flash Animation

Going to the Dogs

AmeriCorps has also played a critical role in addressing the impact of the flood on animals there because Galena’s dogs are more than pets—they’re integral to survival.

Dogs help residents find their way home in poor weather conditions, and they alert owners to predators and other dangers. Many are part of dog sled teams that are an important form of transportation – especially when temperatures fall below the point where fuel freezes and render motorized vehicles useless – in a town that is also a stop for the famous Iditarod race. 

U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (Washington) and Mark Begich (Alaska) pause for a photo with AmeriCorps members during their visit to Galena, AK, on Aug. 9, 2013.

Compared to many of the disasters AmeriCorps members have responded to in the last two years, Galena, Alaska, is small in size. Yet whether a disaster impacts millions, thousands, or hundreds, each family receives the same response whenever their world gets turned upside down.

When the work orders arrive, our teams don’t refer to them by a number or even a last name. They see instead that “Allison’s sister” needs some trees removed or that “John’s father” needs his home mucked and gutted. By connecting on this intimate level, AmeriCorps is able to do an even-better job with what we do best: getting things done.

For more information about the Alaska Yukon River flooding, please visit: http://www.fema.gov/disaster/4122  

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