Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Adak, Nov 2008
One of the most remote places in Alaska and therefore the entire US is Adak Island. Out at the end of the Aleutian Chain, it was once home to a Navy base of 5000 sailors. The base was abandoned about 10 years ago and left to fall into ruins. The entire community of about 100 now live in a small group of houses and duplexes just off the runway. The school holds the city administration, a few classrooms for the handful of children trying to live there with their parents, a medical clinic that has a doctor once a month, same with a dentist. Only the people who really want to live an 'end of the road' existance to so, depending on a 737 twice a week for supplies and mail.
When the island was a Navy base the roads were paved, their was a thriving social network with restaurants, bowling alleys, gyms, doctors, dentist and fully staffed school. Now the roads are full of potholes, many of the buildings are beginning to fall in and collaspe. The power poles carrying transmission lines are no longer straight and tall, having sagged and fallen into the tundra along the main road that stretches across the island. Power comes from generators powered by disel fuel.
When the sun is shining the isolation is its own beauty. A large caribou herd calls the island home. Hunting is year round and caribou and fish provide a large portion of the food for the residents. Halibut is plentiful in the bays around the island. In some ways if you're a big game hunter, the island has plenty to offer. If you hike off the roads large signs warn of buried ordiance, hazardous materials and war supplies buried after WWII and abandoned. Several of the buildings partly buried in the ground carry 'nuclear' symbols and rumor has it that once upon a time nuclear warheads were stockpiled here during the cold war. The gantries and pulleys still exist for moving missles from truck to bunkers. Everyone who visits the island or resides there is briefed on the hazards of moving off of established and well marked routes.
From the hills above what was once a thriving community the housing, barracks and administration buildings stretch across the land. In an effort to recycle some of the materials in all the buildings a contractor has been removing copper pipes, wiring and anything else that can be sold for bulk prices. As the years past the buildings will slowly lose the battle to the extreme weather. Once a roof is lifted in the routine 100 mile winds, the weather will destory the interior in a couple seasons.
Over the years several attempts have been made to do something with this abandoned city. A fishing industry is the latest attempt to spur growth on this tiny rocky island. The island is only hours by fish boat to the huge fishing grounds of the Bristol Bay and the waters between the US and Russia. The island has 2 huge runways, where large aircraft land and wait out weather before continuing on to their destination across the Pacific. Scheduled flights of a 737 occur twice a week, providing the island all of its supplies. There is no barge traffic, no ferries, no shipping fleets bringing in whatever is needed for the tiny population.
In all things, the weather is the deciding factor for anything happening on the island. The island is in the middle of the Pacific, in an area known as 'the Birth of Storms'. Hurricane force winds are a weekly occurrence. The weather can shut down the air service for weeks on end, forcing the Adak residents to have enough supplies stockpiled to last for several weeks or months. During WWII more people died because of the weather, not the Japanese. The island averages 5 days of sun per year. High temperature is about 45. Low temperature is about 40. Year round. You can't grow a garden in that climate without a greenhouse and lots of help.
It's a beautiful place, on a sunny day. I've been there 3 times and really don't care to come back.