The small community of Whale Pass on nothern Prince of Wales Island is trying to recover from unexpected heavy snowfall.
The community got 100 inches of snow in December, which damaged some buildings. Now, recent rain could threaten flooding.
KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:
One hundred inches of snow in December is more than normal say Whale Pass residents and the winter weather came earlier than normal.
“We’ve had several buildings in the community collapse,” said resident, Doug Browand.
He says it’s kept the town busy.
“Most of the guys here have kind of rallied together and formed two digging teams for a while and we were just digging people’s roofs off as best we could. It’s pretty sketchy work, let me tell you,” Browand said.
The boat house with Browand’s Wi-Fi antenna collapsed, December 12. His water and sewer lines have just thawed but they’d been frozen since Thanksgiving. He says the roads have been impassable since the New Year’s because of the snow. Now, with recent rainfall, they could become flooded. Without roads, the residents can’t travel to larger communities on the island for supplies.
“It’s difficult,” Browand said. “We get down to. . . we get out of bread, we get out of eggs and things like that. We’re out of dog food, we’re out of milk. We’re out of all those things.”
Browand says they’ve been relying on a lot of canned salmon put up last summer.
Whale Pass is a very small town. Residents don’t believe the latest federal census of 28. Some counts put the population as high as 80. But by all accounts, it’s less than 100 people, says Mayor Dawn Anderson. She says all the residents were caught off guard by the unexpected winter weather.
“We have an extremely unusual amount of snow,” said Anderson. “People who’ve been here their whole lives haven’t ever seen this kind of snow.”
She says the early, extreme weather has stunned everyone.
The community’s snow plow was already broken, which they had planned to fix before winter set in. Using the road grater instead, it broke down as well. The needed part for the grater took weeks to arrive by mail. The nearest grater was 25 miles away in Naukati and driving it over wasn’t really an option.
“It’s definitely been a challenge, it’s made life a little bit difficult for everybody here,” Anderson said. “We’ve managed to avoid any major emergencies but sometimes it feels like a little bit of ‘by the skin of our chinny-chin-chin’ (laughs).”
Anderson says she’s looking into state and federal assistance for the community’s road budget. She says they’ve spent more in one month then for their whole winter season.
She’s also reached out to other towns in the region for guidance.
Communities further south on Prince of Island have fared a little better. Coffman Cove suffered some frozen pipes but no damages, according to the city office.
The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for the areas around Petersburg, Wrangell, and Kake through Saturday evening, which is north of POW.