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Success Stories: State, FEMA and Volunteers Work Together to Help Re-Build Stevens Village

Release date: 
September 1, 2009
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When a wall of water overwhelmed the Yukon River town of Stevens Village on May 8, residents fled for their lives. Neighbors drove boats through the village rescuing those who were trapped in their homes by the rising waters. Houses floated off their foundations or were battered by huge chunks of ice.

Approximately 40 to 50 residents of this Alaska Native village were evacuated to Fairbanks. The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHS&EM) established an Immediate Housing Needs Hotline to help evacuees from Stevens Village find places to stay.

Evacuees were helped with hotel costs by relief organizations like the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the American Red Cross. An outpouring of contributions from the Fairbanks community offered them food and clothing to replace supplies they had lost in the floods.

Meanwhile, about 25 men stayed behind in Stevens Village, to protect the homes as best they could and to oversee the re-building of the community as soon as the river and ice retreated. DHS&EM arranged for emergency supplies to be flown in, such as water, food, fuel, emergency power supplies, sanitation/hygiene supplies, a satellite phone, cots and sleeping bags, dog food, radios and pumping equipment.

It soon became obvious that if the village was to have its homes ready for the coming winter, it would need help. Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) offered to bring in volunteers to re-build the houses that had been damaged in Stevens Village, even though it was already committed to helping the community of Eagle recover.

In all, volunteers from MDS did extensive repairs to nine houses (Figure 1). They raised most of these houses on stilts to prevent damage from future flooding. They also did necessary repairs to the houses, such as spraying insulation foam into the corners of drafty log homes (Figure 2).

Nearly all the houses in Stevens Village were damaged by the flooding (Figures 3 and 4). One house was moved 25 feet from its original foundation by the flood waters (Figure 5). MDS volunteers stabilized it in its new position and repaired the damage. Another house had all the insulation underneath washed away, so volunteers jacked up the house, to make the floor accessible and to protect it from future floods, then replaced the insulation.

Robert Joseph, a tribal elder who lives with his brother and their 90-year-old mother, had the most seriously damaged house in the village. Water swept through and covered the inside of the home to a depth of nearly three feet. The family lived in a tent outside the house for three months until MDS volunteers replaced the floor and walls and completed repairs.

Horace Smoke, second chief, stepped up to oversee the re-building of the village when the first chief was unable to stay. With his family in Fairbanks, his own home needing extensive repairs, and the responsibility for the entire village in his hands, Smoke felt overwhelmed. When MDS volunteers started working on his house, he was filled with gratitude. "I feel like my house has been taken off my shoulders," he said.

After Stevens Village was declared part of a federal disaster on June 11, FEMA began helping residents in the village. Individual Assistance representatives came to the village to register applicants, rather than having them call or register online as is usually done after a disaster.

In addition, FEMA loaded a barge in Nenana, on the Tanana River outside Fairbanks, with supplies for re-building Stevens Village: 2x4s, plywood, sheetrock, insulation, and everything required for re-building, as well as tools, utility vehicles, gasoline and more. Residents re-building their homes had the option to receive assistance either as cash or as direct aid. Supplies on the barge were for those who chose direct aid.

MDS volunteers were able to help those residents who received direct aid. In spite of the availabilit...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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