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U.S. Coast Guard preps for Bering Sea storm

By Phil Gast, CNN
updated 11:21 AM EST, Wed November 9, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • National Weather Service tracks major storm in Bering Sea
  • U.S. Coast Guard makes preparations
  • Business district of Nome largely protected by sea wall

(CNN) -- A powerful and dangerous Bering Sea storm prepared to slam Alaska's west coast late Tuesday, bringing a brutal mix of high seas, blizzard conditions and strong winds, the National Weather Service said.

Sustained winds in some areas are expected to reach up to hurricane-force levels of 75 and 80 miles per hour, with higher gusts possible, meteorologist Stephen Kearney told CNN.

Nome, with a population of about 3,700, will endure sea levels 7 to 8 feet above normal, with occasional 10-foot waves, he said.

Chip Leeper, incident commander with the Nome government, said people in low-lying areas and on the edges of a sea wall are being advised to seek shelter elsewhere. There were no mandatory evacuations late Tuesday.

While the town was taking the matter seriously, residents were taking things in stride.

"Most people are a hardy lot," Leeper told CNN. "We don't scare easy."

Forecasters said the storm would cross the Chukotsk Peninsula and take a northwestern track into the Chukchi Sea on Wednesday.

Widespread flooding and severe beach erosion are expected in several areas, including Norton Sound.

While fall storms happen, this one has officials particularly concerned because of the anticipated coastal flooding. Usually, the less-populated Aleutian Islands to the south are most affected.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had moved helicopters into positions to assist.

"We are prestaging helicopters from Air Station Kodiak to parts of Western Alaska in response to severe weather advisories, including hurricane force winds and high seas that are forecast all along the west coast of Alaska," said Capt. Daniel Travers, Coast Guard District 17 chief of incident management.

A 143-foot fishing trawler, Rebecca Irene, had lost an engine in the Bering Sea and Coast Guard crews were preparing to remove non-essential personnel, the Coast Guard said in a statement

The mayor of Point Hope, an Inupait village, told CNN Fairbanks affiliate KTVF the community was prepared.

Mayor Steve Oomittuck said, if necessary, everyone in the village of about 700 will go to the school, which sits on higher ground.

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