Friday, October 25, 2013

Yukon Ho! FEMA Team Helps Alaskans Recover from Flood

FEMA Corps team Green 2 deployed to Alaska to help the small town of Galena recover from a devastating flood. For the next four weeks, we will feature their unique service experience in the remote and beautiful American frontier. This week, team member Amethy introduces us to their first days after arriving in Anchorage - a stepping stone to their final destination - and beholding the wonder of the landscape.

Green 2 visits a Glacier

After spending two months doing recovery for Super Storm Sandy in New York City, roughly two months working under the Federal Emergency Management Agency at their headquarters in Washington, DC and months’ worth of traveling and exploring the scenic mountains and plains that create the backdrop for the intricate piece of art that is our country, we have been granted the staggering opportunity to serve in Galena, Alaska. In May, Galena was hit with massive glacial movement that overflowed the Yukon River and rendered over ninety percent of the village unlivable.

Mountain range near some railroad tracks

Homes, schools, stores, government facilities, and other businesses were fated inoperable, and, although I am elated to say that all 470 members of the village survived with their lives, many individuals and families are residing in Fairbanks, Anchorage and other surrounding villages. In addition to those locations, many of these Athabascan people and non-Natives in the village, are being relocated to shelters being run by a coalition between FEMA, the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army. One of the largest concerns among the people of this village is that if the homes of the older generations are not restored to a livable condition before the harsh winter months arrive, they will not return to their homeland and the culture of their people will be lost.

Team picture by a glacier lake with moutain range in background

After hours of restless sleep and first day jitters, Green 2, consisting of eight Corps members and a Team leader, deployed from our home base in Sacramento, California and began our journey to Anchorage, Alaska. Enduring only one layover in Seattle, Washington, we arrived Monday afternoon alongside our sister team, Gold 2. Lily, Michelle, Andy, Reid, Nicole, Trestin, Rebecca, Diana and I were side swept with emotion as we stepped into a wonderland many of us thought we would only visit in dreams. 

Rocky shoreline of lake with breathtaking moutain range

After settling into our temporary housing at Bent Prop Hostel, and unpacking our lives from our big, red bags, we prepared for our first day at Anchorage’s Joint Field Office. As we pulled up and exited the 15 passenger van the following morning, the smell of cool autumn air lent a sense of grade school nostalgia as we entered the building to learn more about our project. As every other FEMA employee we have encountered has in the past, we were greeted with a sense of enthusiasm for service and endearing professionalism. We were briefed on safety concerns that exist regarding moose, bears and the eroding riverbed, along with cultural challenges we will face while working with a Native American tribe.

Yesterday, our Assistant Program Director Dominique, versed in the wonders of Alaska, rounded up both of our teams and we began a day journey down Seward Highway, through Chugach State Park. The whole of us drank in the majestic, snow-capped mountains and wandered along the shoreline of Resurrection Bay, spotting beluga whales and wildlife all the while. Coming upon an artesian water pipeline, carved through a mass that scraped the sky, we refreshed ourselves with the sweet, mountain water before embarking on a tedious hike to the top of Exit Glacier. The day found us hours down the coastline in the small fishing town of Seward, where we picnicked on the bay and watched the waves breathe in and out over rocks and driftwood, forcing us into a state of reflection and admiration for the opportunities laid before us. As our day neared its end, the clouds overhead heavy with rain, the sky blanketed in a veil of grey and green, we weaved through the infinite vastness only to be stopped in our tracks as the congestion opened up before us revealing a double rainbow, hand painted in the final falling drops…just for us.

Double rainbow over the green mountains of Alaska

Tomorrow morning, we will board a 16 passenger plane and fly out of Anchorage International, journeying the 350 miles north to rural Galena, as the village has no roads leading in or out. Technology will be minimal to intermittent, and I am anxiously awaiting the chance to unplug from the world for two months. We know our mission and we are ready to help these resilient and remarkable people, with the same passion and work ethic we have always prided ourselves on. I don’t know what the next few months will hold for us, but I do know that if we continue to grow and prosper in the manor that we have in the past, then I am ecstatic to meet the remarkable versions of my teammates that will emerge on the other side.

Brought to you by AmeriCorps NCCC, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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