The tiny village of Newtok near Alaska’s western coast has been sliding into the Ninglick River for years. As temperatures increase — faster there than in the rest of the U.S. — the frozen permafrost underneath Newtok is thawing. About 70 feet of land a year erode away, putting the village’s colorful buildings, some on stilts, ever closer to the water’s edge.
Now, in an unprecedented test case, Newtok wants the federal government to declare these mounting impacts of climate change an official disaster. Villagers say it’s their last shot at unlocking the tens of millions of dollars needed to relocate the entire community. “We just need to get out of there,” says Romy Cadiente, the village relocation coordinator. “For the safety of the 450 people there.”