Kyle Peter knocked on Kristy and Nelson Napoka’s front door, urgency in every hit.
“The washeteria is on fire!” he burst out when his sister’s door opened.
Kristy had been baking a cake for her daughter’s birthday, but a menace to the village’s only source of treated drinking water urged her to action. She threw on her brown coat. Nelson dropped turkey meat with steamed rice he had been having and ran outside.
The date was January 16, around noon. With no running water to the homes in Alaska, Tuluksak, most citizens relied on the water piped to the village’s laundry building, which also contained the water treatment plant. Now, thick smoke came out through cracks in the walls and from under the doors.
Even with no one inside the building, the risk was significant. If the fire or heat reached the two 18,000-gallon fuel tanks 40 feet away from the building, the damage could be catastrophic.
Tuluksak, a 457-resident village in Alaska, is one of the most rural places in the country. No roads connect it to nearby towns or villages. Since everything needs to be flown into the city, Tuluksak is very expensive. A water bottle costs up to $60; a half-gallon of orange juice $12, 10-pound bag of sugar, $24. Approximately half of the residents live in poverty, and several use food stamps.
Despite the isolation, the COVID-19 has hit rural Alaska hard. At least one-third of Tuluksak’s residents have been diagnosed with coronavirus, and like many other towns, Tuuksak is on lockdown. The school has been closed since October.