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Alaska braces for megastorm that could be worst on record

Villages and towns across Alaska's western and northwest coasts braced Tuesday for a winter megastorm that the National Weather Service says could be among the worst on record.

Forecasters warned of life-threatening surf, wind and snow clobbering villages along the Bering and Chukchi sea coasts Tuesday night and today. Some villagers moved to higher ground. Officials in Nome evacuated half of the city's Front Street, the famous finish line of the Iditarod Trail.

"These things get named hurricanes down south and get a category. It's that magnitude," said Jeff Osiensky, regional warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The storm was expected to hit across hundreds of miles of coastline, with the worst expected from the Yukon River Delta all the way north to the Arctic Coast.

The wind was forecast to reach 50 to 75 mph for much of the coast, with gusts of 90 to 100 mph in some areas, according to the Weather Service. A lack of protective, shore-fast sea ice worsened the high-water danger compared to a similarly powerful storm in 1974, forecasters said.

Severe shoreline erosion was forecast, as was a storm surge of up to 9 feet that was expected to cause coastal flooding.

As the state triggered an emergency operations center in Anchorage, some villagers hundreds of miles away boarded windows in preparation for the worst.

"There was a big rush at the store today to get water," said Elmer Davis, a former police officer who lives in the village of Shishmaref, which has seen extensive coastal erosion.

"I don't get scared too easy," he said, "and this sounds like Armageddon."

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