"Now, more than ever, disasters are growing in scale and frequency across the state of Alaska," says Bryan Cassella, Alaska's regional disaster officer.
This disaster causing event happens almost every year. The ice on the rivers that thread through Alaska melts, cracks, and begins the journey to the many mouths connecting the rivers to the ocean. But the swift-moving, car-sized chunks of ice don't make the journey down the rivers peacefully. Each year, villages along the banks of these plentiful rivers face dangerous flooding, threatening homes, boats, and roads. With the growing threat of the climate crisis warming the rivers earlier and more rapidly, villages are seeing these floods increase their devastation.
"Records are being broken across various metrics, whether it's time of year, scale, or levels of measurement such as rain and snowfall,' says Casella. 'As these events continue to take stronger form, not just those in the field of emergency management, but a collective "we" as first responding members of our communities, must be prepared to act and support, particularly in a state with such vast access and scope challenges."
The residents of Crooked Creek have called the Kuskokwim River home for centuries. The river is their lifeblood providing many villagers with food, transportation, and jobs. Even knowing the growing threat of the river each and every year, moving away from their traditional lands is not an option. This year, Crooked Creek saw floodwaters several feet high damaging homes in the 137-person village. The Red Cross heard their call for help and answered immediately. Volunteers provided emergency disaster supplies, including much-needed cleaning equipment, blankets, and personal protection equipment, to help the residents rebuild after their tragic losses. Many residents could not return home to start that process and relied on the Red Cross to provide shelter in the village school.
"The area was just a mess when we first got there. One house had a house-sized ice chunk that had totally knocked it off the foundation,' says Terri Dennett, Red Cross sheltering and damage assessment volunteer. 'We were walking and looking up at the ice, and we couldn't get to half of the village until two days later."
But even while facing the unknown after a disaster, the shelter residents found ways to keep their spirits high by prioritizing their cultural traditions and even teaching the younger generations about their traditional ways.
"It is important to teach our young the traditional ways,' says Laura Crane, shelter resident. 'We start them learning as soon as they can hold a knife. I taught my son young so he can be proficient and carry on our ways."
Red Cross shelter volunteers were able to share those once-in-a-lifetime meals with their new friends in the shelter, eating traditional foods such as beaver, moose, bear, and agutuk (a dessert made from animal fat, berries, and white fish). The shelter residents brought in the ingredients for these dishes, preparing the meats the traditional way; on the floor of the shelter over a table made of cardboard.
"The people were amazing', says Dennett. 'They came and got us and said, 'You have to come eat with us. You have to honor us by joining us for our meals, and that's how they put it. They just fed us what they had, and we were grateful."
Shelter volunteers said it was more than the 'interesting' meals they shared; they gained forever friendships and a better understanding of the importance of the traditional ways to the first peoples of the lands Alaskans call home.
"They just opened up their arms and said welcome. You're part of the family. We were treated like guests, like honored guests, but we were there to help them. It was amazing. We've all been invited back any time we want to come,' Dennett explained.
The Red Cross also provided emergency supplies and services to the villages of Circle, Glenallen, Russian Mission, Kwethluk, and Alakanuk. In total, 67 volunteers served during this disaster response assisting more than 60 families impacted by the floods.