In Bethel, troops and aid workers prepare to get off the ground and into coastal communities
After the storm that happened over the Sept. 17 weekend, volunteer aid workers and Alaska National Guard troops are organizing in Bethel as they prepare to fly out to harder hit communities.
A Black Hawk helicopter touched down outside the National Guard hangar in Bethel, white clouds and a blue sky in the background. The weather is clear now, but a strong storm ripped through just a few days ago. It was even stronger along the coast, where some communities suffered significant damage. One of those communities will be the next stop for the helicopter. But as of Sept. 20, the Alaska National Guard hadn’t pinpointed exactly which, according to spokesperson Dana Rosso.
“We need to know from the communities who needs support, who has what going on,” Rosso said. “That will really determine how we use this asset and how we move the guardsmen over the next few days.”
Additional National Guard troops are set to land in Bethel on Sept. 21. From Bethel, they will be flown out to assess damages and aid in recovery in harder hit communities. Those incoming troops will line up cots in the Bethel National Guard Armory’s drill hall. In a classroom just beside it, the American Red Cross already has a few cots set up. Like the Alaska National Guard troops, American Red Cross volunteers are making a base out of the armory while they wait to fly out to communities along the coast.
Two American Red Cross volunteers shuffle between a few army-green canvas cots on the classroom floor. Volunteer Suzanne Reibson is set to fly out to Chevak soon, and maybe to Hooper Bay after that. Once there, the volunteer from Buffalo will assess those communities’ needs.
“We’re hoping to help them the way that they need help here in their communities,” Reibson said. “Whatever that may be, to help get them going forward again.”
All the American Red Cross volunteers coming in from the lower 48, like Reibson, attended a cultural education workshop by the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage when they landed in the state.
The American Red Cross site manager in Bethel, Richard Picard, anticipates that the recovery process could take a while, especially if the storm destroyed people’s food stores for the winter.
“It takes a long commitment to providing people what they need, helping rebuild a community, and helping get the community back in a sense of normalcy,” Picard said.
He expects that more American Red Cross volunteers will arrive in Bethel in the coming days.