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Success Stories: Rebuilding Tanana

Release date: 
August 24, 2009
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In early May residents of Tanana, a small Alaska Native village situated where the Yukon and Tanana Rivers meet, watched anxiously as reports of the destruction upriver reached them. When crushing ice and swollen floodwaters reached their village on May 12th, the force damaged homes, dislodged outhouses and fuel storage tanks, and destroyed personal property.

Charter planes evacuated about a quarter of the population – mostly elders, mothers and children, and disabled persons -- to Fairbanks. Unlike some Yukon River villages, Tanana offers no shelter facility on high ground to which they could flee.

When the waters began to recede, more than 35 homes had sustained damage; 2 of them required major repairs. 

Soon Tanana became not only a confluence of rivers, but of helping hands.

The Tanana Tribal Council facilitated the early recovery efforts.  The Tanana Chiefs Conference worked with Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management personnel to coordinate the shelter and emergency needs of the evacuees, working with the Fairbanks Food Bank and the American Red Cross.

Mayor Donna May Folger didn't evacuate with the other women. Instead, she stayed in Tanana, helping with communication and planning. The Tanana Chiefs Conference also sent workers to help with clean-up.

FEMA paid for the transportation of volunteers from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) to Tanana where they have led the rebuilding effort with work teams under the leadership of site manager Mike Tigchelaar and Tanana construction coordinator Arnie Gustafson.

Repairs of many types have been needed. Electricians inspected homes to identify necessary repairs.  Damaged flooring was stripped and new flooring installed. Walls have been repaired, repainted, and re-paneled. The goal is to have damaged homes restored to livable condition before the winter cold sets in.

With compassion and with pragmatism driven by the weather-imposed deadline, volunteers from CRWRC work diligently, wherever and however they have a skill that's needed.

Volunteers continue to hammer, saw, sand, and re-wire. The work will not be finished until, as Alaska Native Gloria Albert put it, "I'll be happy when I get to move back into my own home."


  • Tanana is an Alaska Native community of approximately 260 people located at the convergence of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, 50 minutes by air from Fairbanks.
  • Floodwaters inundated much of the village on May 12, 2009.
  • Approximately ¼ of the population – mainly mothers, children, the elderly, and the disabled – were evacuated to Fairbanks in nine charter planes.  Soon after, the flood waters covered the runway.
  • Evacuees were assisted with shelter by the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the American Red Cross.
  • The Fairbanks Food Bank helped feed the evacuees.
  • Mayor Donna Folger stayed behind and assisted with the early recovery.
  • DHS & EM arranged for emergency supplies to be flown in including water, food, fuel, emergency power supplies, sanitation/hygiene supplies, a satellite phone, cots and sleeping bags, dog food, radios and pumping equipment.
  • 35 houses sustained some damage; 2 needed major repairs
  • Aid from FEMA is being provided in the form of money to repair homes and to buy building supplies and materials, along with travel costs for the CRWRC volunteers.
  • The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) Disaster Recovery Service (DRS) leads the reconstruction effort in Tanana.
  • CRWRC-DRS contacts:
    • The CRWRC-DRS Director is Bill Adams.
    • The Regional Manager for CRWRC-DRS is Jay De Boer.
    • The Tanana Construction coordinator is Arnie Gustafson. 
    • The Site Manager supervising the volunteer teams in Tanana is...
Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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