Alaska town tries to dig out after three weeks of relentless snow

Officials said at least three buildings have collapsed or partially collapsed and six homes are deemed severely stressed by heavy wet snow.

Kim Weibl/Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management/AP
In this Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012 photo provided by the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, a man stands on a house buried in snow in the fishing town of Cordova, Alaska. Residents have turned to the state to help them dig out of massive snow levels that have collapsed roofs, triggered avalanches and even covered doors, trapping some people in their homes.

Dozens of National Guard troops have arrived to help the Alaska fishing town ofCordova dig out from massive snows that have collapsed roofs, trapped some people in homes, and triggered avalanches.

Cordova is used to snow, but not like this season's blanketing.

The Guard reported more than 18 feet (5.5 meters) of snow has fallen in the past weeks, although the National Weather Service did not immediately have a measurement.

"There's nowhere to go with the snow because it's piled up so high," said Wendy Rainney, who owns the Orca Adventure Lodge. A storage building for the lodge — which offers fishing trips, hiking, kayaking and glacier tours — partially collapsed under the weight of the snow, she said.

"This is more quantity than can be handled."

Officials said at least three buildings have collapsed or partially collapsed and six homes are deemed severely stressed by heavy wet snow.

The city has set up a shelter at a local recreation center, but said people leaving homes in avalanche-risky areas have been staying with other residents. Cordova spokesman Allen Marquette said the town also was ready to set up a pet shelter if necessary.

The town issued a disaster proclamation last week after three weeks of relentless snow overwhelmed local crews working around the clock and filled snow dump sites.

"We had no alternative but to declare an emergency," Cordova Mayor Jim Kallander said. "It became a life-safety issue."

Responders said Sunday that rain fell overnight, making for a slippery, treacherous mess in the Prince William Sound community of 2,000 year-round residents.

The region has been pummeled by snow, but Cordova is of particular concern because there is no road access to the town, only boat and plane passage, said Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard.

There have been no reported injuries, but bad weather had prevented the Guard from flying to the town, 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of Anchorage.

More than 70 Guard members arrived in Cordova via state ferry Sunday. About 50 of them will help clear roofs, roads, boats. The rest will provide other assistance.

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