Do you know the way to Toksook Bay?

Census Director Steven Dillingham at the Bethel Airport. Photo by Anar Virji via Facebook.

Holding patterns: Alaska’s weather is why the 2020 Census makes Alaska ‘hard to count’

The first count of the US Census Bureau in Toksook Bay, Alaska, did not go off as planned Tuesday.

Reuters reports the two charter flights carrying the director of the US Census Bureau and other officials to Toksook Bay were delayed due to freezing fog. After landing at Toksook Bay, Steven Dillingham, the director of the census bureau, conducted the first interview after riding on the back of a snowmobile from the airport to Chimiugak’s home.

That was five hours later than scheduled.

The weather was closing in again so officials quickly enumerated the oldest resident of the predominantly Yup’ik village, Lizzie Chimiugak, age 90. Census director Steve Dillingham gave brief comments at the high school gym where hundreds of villagers had been waiting to start the festivities.

High school English teacher Danielle Eberhart said the top officials were on the ground in Toksook Bay for less than an hour, but several journalists stayed on and enjoyed the Yup’ik dance and the food that had been prepared.

Reuters reports a team of census takers will stay on to complete the head count in the village.

Related story: 90 years young. And counted first.

Several national teams of journalists only made it as far as Bethel -- some 400 miles west of Anchorage and more than a hundred miles east of Toksook Bay. Bethel is a regional hub for air traffic to villages.

"Flights from Bethel to Toksook Bay were cancelled for the second day in a row,” wrote Anar Virji on her Facebook page. She is a journalist for Al Jazeera English.

“The census director got in on a charter and spent just a short amount of time there before the pilot said they had to leave while they could,” she wrote. “We know this because we moved on to our rapidly evolving Plan B, then Plan C, then Plan D for covering the start of the census and just as we finished filming in Bethel and sat down to eat, in walked the census director."

"Flying conditions in Alaska can be unpredictable,” Virji wrote. “But what a state."

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Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today and a long-time Alaska journalist. The Associated Press and Patty Talahongva contributed to this report.

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