Why Hawaiians Are Helping Alaskans Cope with Record Flooding
Jill M. Kastner is the Editor of The Affiliate and General Counsel of BallparkHomerun.com in Glendale, Wisconsin.
Honolulu, Hawaii, is 2,785 miles from Anchorage, Alaska. From this great distance, Jill Hasegawa, Past President of Hawaii’s Young Lawyers Division, is working with FEMA to provide disaster legal assistance to Alaskan victims of severe flooding and ice sheeting.
This past winter, much of Alaska received record snowfall. Kotzebue, on the coast of the Bering Sea, received a record 102 inches of snow—more than double the average of forty inches. To make matters worse, an unusually cold spring prevented early, slow melting of the snowpack. As a result, in late April and May, when temperatures finally hit above freezing, the snow melted quickly and began flooding many rivers, creaks, and lakes. As waterways began to melt, the top, thick layers of ice floated downstream, forming ice jams. The ice jams created dams and otherwise blocked the natural flow of rivers, causing additional flooding in low-lying areas.
On June 11, President Obama declared parts of Alaska disaster areas. Soon thereafter, the President authorized FEMA to coordinate disaster legal services to flood victims. FEMA then called the ABA YLD and the District Representative responsible for Disaster Legal Services (DLS) in Alaska—Jill Hasegawa of Honolulu. Jill has since been working with the Alaska Bar Association and legal aid groups to help provide free legal assistance for victims who qualify.
Despite the distance, both Hawaii and Alaska make up the ABA YLD’s District 33. Although some states have their own District Representatives (and California and Texas have two each), many states share a district representative with another state. None, however, are as far apart as Alaska and Hawaii.
Every two years, Hawaii and Alaska alternate who will have the two-year District Representative appointment. Last year, Jill, who practices in Honolulu at Ashford & Winston, earned this position. Next year, a young lawyer from Alaska will have the two-year tour of duty.
This is Jill’s second natural disaster this year. The first occurred earlier this spring when heavy rains, high winds, and flooding destroyed many low-income homes in Jill’s home state. For that disaster, Jill worked with her state bar to set up a hotline for disaster victims to call with their legal questions.
“I fielded all of the calls and worked with FEMA,” Jill said about her first DLS experience. “Along with our state bar [Hawaii State Bar Association], we worked with LASH [Legal Aid Society of Hawaii] to set up a protocol for disaster assistance.”
Now, to deal with the flooding in Alaska, Jill has been actively involved in telephone conferences and working with FEMA and the Alaska Bar Association to set up a DLS hotline and make certain Alaskan flood victims receive the support they need. Coordinating disaster legal assistance from more than 2,700 miles away is difficult, but we’re confident that with the help of the good folks at the Alaska Bar Association, Jill will get the job done.