Virtually every community was affected.
As soon as they came ashore, APA cannery crews began to help the plague infected villages. While the business at hand was preparing canneries for the short but intense fishing season, the APA, according to its own accounts, spared no expense to extend medical help to the afflicted, comfort the dying, build coffins, bury the dead and perhaps most critically, clothe, feed and house a multitude of orphans. Curiously, the Flu, an H1N1 variant, spared the young and reserved its cruel wrath for their parents.
Every community in the Lake and Peninsula borough, except Egegik, was affected by the Flu and some, like New Savonski, were devastated beyond recovery.
A pandemic compounded by a fishery collapse.
By the end of June, the Flu had run its course, but the disaster was not over--Bristol Bay's expected run of salmon in July did not come that year.
Overfishing to provide more food for the allied armies in World War I apparently decimated the 1919 brood stocks leading to the first major collapse of the Bristol Bay commercial fishery. The poor run was doubly disastrous for a Native population already diminished and weak. Starvation and more death ensued in some of the more remote villages.
As the 1919 fishing season came to a close, the seasonal canneries could no longer house the orphans and most were delivered to the care of Dr. French at the Government hospital at Dillingham.
Having already faced what could only have been the greatest challenge of his medical career, Dr. French took on one more historic task before departing Bristol Bay--the establishment of an orphanage for 110 children who lost their parents to the pandemic. Many of those orphans came from villages within the Lake and Peninsula region.
A devastating toll that could have been much worse.
Historians estimate that some 40% of the adult population of Bristol Bay died from the Spanish Flu in 1919, but no one really knows. Unmarked mass graves all around Bristol Bay conceal the actual numbers. Many villages just disappeared, taking their stories with them.
What can safely be said, is that hundreds died and hundreds more would likely have followed, were it not for the dedication of a doctor and two nurses at a scrappy government hospital in Dillingham and the generosity and quick action of the salmon canning industry, in particular, the Alaska Packers Association.