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Alaska governor declares emergency over village water crisis

February 10, 2021 GMT

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s governor has issued a disaster declaration and released funds for a southwest village more than three weeks after a fire destroyed the community’s only source of drinking water.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Monday authorized up to $1 million in state relief money to help the community of Tuluksak.

Residents have been drinking mostly bottled water donated by businesses and individuals since a Jan. 16 fire destroyed the community’s water plant and laundromat.

“Since the loss of the Tuluksak water system, my administration has worked with local partners, including the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and many others, to ensure the people of Tuluksak have constant access to drinking water and that the ice road is maintained,” Dunleavy said.

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Paul Nelson, director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the funds will be used to reimburse agencies that have already provided assistance.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has paid for initial infrastructure construction.

The cost to rebuild a new water plant and laundromat for the village could reach $6 million, officials said.

The delayed respond by the state was the result of time needed to analyze the situation, Nelson said.

An immediate disaster declaration “is usually only reserved for when the community is utterly overwhelmed and there is an imminent or immediate life threat,” Nelson said.

Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs commissioner, said the health and safety of Alaska residents is a government priority.

“We will continue to provide support to the people of Tuluksak,” Saxe said.

The administration experienced pressure on social media to assist Tuluksak, including a message from musical group Black Eyed Peas.

The band posted a tweet Saturday saying: “@MikeDunleavyGov, the people of Tuluksak need the help of the state and city to resolve this crisis!”