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10:12 am
Mon January 9, 2012

In Alaska: Nome Waits For Fuel; Cordova Digs Out From 18-Feet Of Snow

Winter continues to wallop Alaska with some weather and some challenges that even the seen-it-all locals seem to be amazed about.

In Cordova, about 150 miles southeast of Anchorage, "dozens of National Guard troops have arrived to help ... dig out from massive snows that have collapsed roofs, trapped some people in homes, and triggered avalanches," The Associated Press reports.

Guard officials tell the AP there's been about 18 feet of snow in Cordova so far this season. The National Weather Service warns that another storm is headed Cordova's way on Tuesday.

But already, "there's nowhere to go with the snow because it's piled up so high," Wendy Rainney, who owns the Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, tells the AP.

Fortunately, according to Alaska Dispatch, "the city had recently received supplies, the grocery store was open, though schools were scheduled to be closed Monday. No injuries had been reported due to the snow.

"I'm not aware of any issues with supplies. The only thing we're really lacking is — there's not a snow shovel left in town," Allen Marquette, public information officer with the city of Cordova told Alaska Dispatch. About 2,000 people live in Cordova year-round, the AP says.

Meanwhile, far to the west the 3,500 people of Nome are hopeful that by Wednesday a Russian tanker bringing 1.3 million gallons of much needed fuel will have reached them. It's following the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy.

The Healy, by the way, is posting some pretty amazing photos here.

As Eyder reported back in November, some brutal early winter weather had forced the cancellation of what was going to be the last fuel shipment of the season to Nome. It was feared that any additional fuel would have to be flown in, which would send already high fuel prices in Nome into the stratosphere. But it looks like the Healy will be able to save the day. If the ships make it, this will be the first such wintertime sea delivery to a western Alaska community.

Update at 2:50 p.m. ET. In Cordova, "Even The Old-Timers Say We're Breaking New Ground":

Cordova Mayor Jim Kallander just told NPR's Melissa Block that what's happening in his city is "precedent-setting" and that "nobody's seen snow like this in recent history ... even the old-timers say we're breaking new ground."

So far, he said, no homes have been seriously damaged and now with the additional help from the National Guard, some Coast Guard personnel and some heavy equipment that's been brought in by the state, work continues to dig out.

But, said Kallander, the forecast for Tuesday now calls for three more feet of snow and winds of 40 mph. Are the folks there ready? "Well, we have to be, don't we?" said the mayor, who's lived in Cordova for more than 30 years but has known what it's like to live in snow country all his life because he grew up in New York State's Genesee County.

If there's an emergency, he says, authorities will "send the loader in front of the ambulance or the fire truck and they'll just dig their way to where they have to go."

Much more from Melissa's conversation with the mayor is due on All Things Considered later today. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.

As the mayor said, snow has been piling up in Cordova since mid-December and there are many photos and videos showing up on the Web. Check out this video made there last week.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The Alaskan city of Cordova is used to snow, but not this much snow. Officials estimate that the southern coastal community along Prince William Sound has received about 18 feet so far this season. And it's testing the roofs and roads.

Joining me on the phone from his command center is Cordova Mayor James Kallander. And, Mayor Kallander, how bad is this compared to what you're used to up there?

MAYOR JAMES KALLANDER: Oh, this is precedent setting. We - even the old-timers say we're breaking new ground now.

BLOCK: Yeah, 18 feet. Eighteen feet is 18 feet.

KALLANDER: Yup. It's been pretty incredible.

BLOCK: Well, how do you deal with all that snow? What's the town doing?

KALLANDER: Well, this event started around 12th to 13th of December, and it's been snowing with great frequency since. And we have a pretty robust public works department. We have three loaders, big end loaders with snow buckets and two road graders that are all chained up. And these guys were doing pretty well until all the snow dumps filled up in town, and I'm talking about mountains of snow.

BLOCK: Yeah.

KALLANDER: And then we started just getting overwhelmed. I mean, it got to the point where we couldn't keep single lanes in subdivisions. So that's where I declared a disaster emergency.

BLOCK: And what happens when you declare a disaster emergency?

KALLANDER: Well, we have our procedure and process in our code of how you declare. And we've got, I think, around 60 or 70 National Guard folks came in yesterday on the ferry, all with shovels and climbing gear to get on roofs. And the Coast Guard held their ship back from deployment, and so there's 25 or 30 Coast Guard sailors that are pitching in, and Homeland Security has staff here. So we're getting some serious help here now.

BLOCK: What does it look like if you're driving around Cordova - assuming you can drive around Cordova, what does it look like right now with all this snow?

KALLANDER: Well, our snow dumps are - some of them are probably 25 or 30 feet high. All the roads, the main highways are pushed out now. We've had a reprieve for about 20 hours. So they're pushed out to almost full, with banks probably in the eight-foot range. All the streets signs, all the signage on the highway is covered. And we've abandoned some of the cross streets and made them into snow dumps.

BLOCK: Mm. What about electricity?

Electricity here is all underground. We've been working - the electric coop here has worked for probably the last six, eight years to move all utilities underground. So in that department, we're pretty good shape.

Mayor Kallander, I was looking at the weather forecast for Cordova, and I saw snow, snow and more snow coming your way. Is that what you're hearing?

KALLANDER: Yeah. We just - we've got a forecaster working with Homeland Security. We're looking at tomorrow potentially three more feet of snow.

BLOCK: Three more feet tomorrow.

KALLANDER: Yeah. With 40-mile-an-hour winds.

BLOCK: You ready for that?

KALLANDER: Well, we have to be, don't we?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: I guess there's not much choice.

No. No. You know, if it gets too severe, we'll just pull everybody in, and they'll just dig their way to wherever they got to go.

I've been talking with James Kallander, the mayor of Cordova, Alaska, which has had more than 18 feet of snow this winter and lots more on the way. Mayor Kallander, thanks so much and best of luck to you.

KALLANDER: Thank you, Melissa. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.