Alaska Town to Vanish by 2017

'Guardian' calls Newtok residents America's 'first climate change refugees'

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted May 14, 2013 9:06 AM CDT | Updated May 18, 2013 7:00 PM CDT

(Newser) – When it comes to the fate of the 350 residents of Newtok, Alaska, the Guardian pulls no punches: "Exile is inevitable," it writes. That's because their coastal village, located some 480 miles west of Anchorage, is in the process of being washed into the Bering Sea. As the Guardian explains in an in-depth look at the town, the Ninglick River flows past three of Newtok's sides on its path to the sea, and it's been chipping away at the village at a rate that's only grown more aggressive due to climate change (more than 100 feet of shoreline gone some years), which has been linked to melting permafrost and dwindling protective sea ice.

The US Army Corps of Engineers surveyed the village, and offered no break to the gloom: It concluded that seawalls or other protective measures wouldn't work, and that Newtok's highest point could be underwater in just four years, by 2017. The villagers must leave (a tribal administrator tells Alaska Public Radio relocation has been a major town talking point for the last three decades), leading the Guardian to dub them "America's first climate change refugees." The villagers selected a new site nine miles away, but moving the town there could cost $130 million, and relocation efforts have yet to truly get off the ground. And while Newtok may be first to disappear, it likely won't be last: A decade-old GAO report found 184 Native villages in Alaska could be at risk.

In this May 24, 2006 picture, a boy walks along the banks of the Newtok River in the village of Newtok, Alaska.
In this May 24, 2006 picture, a boy walks along the banks of the Newtok River in the village of Newtok, Alaska.   (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)
This Wednesday, May 24, 2006 picture shows Newtok, Alaska, where the eroding bank along the Ninglick River has long been a problem for the village 480 miles west of Anchorage.
This Wednesday, May 24, 2006 picture shows Newtok, Alaska, where the eroding bank along the Ninglick River has long been a problem for the village 480 miles west of Anchorage.   (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
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