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The swamp appeared about 10 or 15 years ago and then expanded, swallowing the graves around it. The graveyard in the neighboring village of Kwigillingok, or Kwig, is also sinking into swampland.

‘Sinking graves’ cause heartache

After consulting with Kwig's elders for advice, Andrew said, Kong started laying its loved ones to rest in boxes above ground. Digging into the ground removes the plants and topsoil that insulate the permafrost and accelerates the rising water. Andrew said that the swamp stopped expanding when Kong stopped burying its dead, but a row of white grave boxes from about a decade ago are teetering at odd angles, sliding feet-first into the lake.

The water is still causing problems. Back in town, Otto's family hosted her funeral feast in an old high school gym. Community members piled their bowls high with seal stew and akutaq while children wrestled each other by the bleachers. Otto's daughter, Betty Phillip, sat quietly in a corner. Her mother was laid to rest on higher ground, but not all of her family is so lucky. If she wears rubber boots that reach above her knees, Phillip said, she can wade close to his grave, but can't quite touch his cross.

Sinking graves

Others tell similar stories. One man said that his cousins tried to drain the water from around his grandparents' grave. When they were alive, they held the family together; his cousins didn't have much luck.

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Another woman, Hannah Jimmy, said that her parents, aunts, uncles, sister and best friend are all in the cemetery, buried together in a single row. They're underwater now. Tribal administrator Andrew said that the village is trying to move the sunken graves to higher ground, but doesn't have the money yet.

Thawing permafrost, he said, is warping Kong in other ways.

Heavy rain causes graves to sink

The river is eroding the shoreline and Kong itself is sinking. The hill that the village stands on is slowly slipping down to sea level. When asked whether he thought that Kong would ever need to be relocated due to climate change, Andrew was quiet for a moment, then sighed. He doesn't see Kong relocating.

If anything, he said, Kong's population might double in size in the future. Residents in Kwig are talking about moving because of the seasonal flooding. Andrew wants to be buried next to his parents; he keeps a picture of them above his desk.

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They died last year within about eight months of each other after being married for over 60 years. Their grave boxes still smell like fresh paint and are wreathed in plastic flowers, propped up on blocks on the cemetery's highest ground, at least for now. This story was republished from KYUK with permission. Subscribe Customer Service. All content. Alaska News Earthquake. Alaska Life We Alaskans. Alaska Marijuana News. Arts and Entertainment TV Listings. Opinions Editorials. Politics Alaska Legislature. Sports National Sports. Special Sections Back to school.

Visual Stories Videos. Eventually, you pass crops of headstones glinting in the moonlight, each engraved with the CliffsNotes version of the dead person's life.

You practically run past sunken graves and dying flowers, hoping upon hope that the sound you hear is just the wind and trying to shake the feeling that something is following close on your heels. All right, so maybe you've never taken a midnight shortcut through the local cemetery. But if you have ever set foot in a graveyard, you've likely felt a hint of the fear and uneasiness that is their legacy.

Maybe you were attending a family funeral, touring historic graveyards or simply fleeing flying silver spheres and hooded dwarves. After all, graveyards are the final resting place for many of our dead.


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People say their last goodbyes there, sometimes returning year after year to leave flowers or say a few words. No matter where you travel in the world, cemeteries frequently are silent and solemn settings. Is it the thought of all those decaying bodies under the dirt or the idea of a bony arm emerging from the soil to grab your ankle and pull you into the underworld?