|  April 17, 2014  |  
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Begich Discusses Flooding in Galena and Yukon River Communities on Senate Floor

Says flooding is “A reminder of inequities that still exist in rural America”
(video available)

U.S. Senator Mark Begich today took to the Senate floor to address the unique challenges facing rural Alaskans in the wake of the devastating flooding in Galena and other Yukon River communities. Begich took the opportunity to highlight the need to strengthen communication efforts and infrastructure in rural areas to improve disaster mitigation and response efforts.

“Responding to natural disasters in Alaska is very different than in the Lower 48. We have very unique challenges due to our vast geography,” said Begich. “Alaskans’ experiences are those that most residents of the Lower 48 couldn’t even begin to imagine. And this disaster in Galena is a stark reminder of why we must continue to invest in the aviation, telecommunication and maritime lifelines that Alaskans rely on for survival.”

Almost half of the Yukon River community of Galena in Interior Alaska was recently evacuated as river ice and snow began to melt and flood the river, leaving behind sizable destruction to homes and buildings.  Giant ice-jams often form during springtime “breakup” and the river can quickly back up into affected communities. “The response by locals and nearby communities to aid in the relief effort has been remarkable,” Begich said.  “Donations of food, clothing, shelter, and cash have poured in from across the State to ensure families forced to evacuate are taken care of during this difficult time.

“To show how some of the most basic response tools are still lacking or inadequate I have to point out that many of these communities do not have cellular or broadband access, which is so critical in disaster response in the Lower 48.  This flood is a reminder of the inequities that still exist in rural America,” he said.  “As the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Management, I take this flooding event very seriously and look forward to working with the delegation and the Administration to better prepare Alaska to mitigate against future disasters.”

Begich is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations and the District of Columbia, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He recently held a roundtable discussion in Anchorage with experts to discuss preparedness and mitigation efforts for climate change, coastal erosion, flooding, and sea level rise as a result of a warming Arctic. The roundtable was in response to the White House’s recently released National Strategy for the Arctic Region and gave Alaskans the chance to comment on the report. Begich plans to hold more of these roundtables in the coming months.

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