Alaska town buried in snow gets help digging out

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Tue Jan 10, 2012 6:17am EST

Downtown Cordova, Alaska, is covered in snow in this handout photo released to Reuters January 9, 2012. REUTERS/Kim Weibl/Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management/Handout

Downtown Cordova, Alaska, is covered in snow in this handout photo released to Reuters January 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Weibl/Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management/Handout

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - National Guardsman were helping residents of the Alaskan fishing town of Cordova in the Prince William Sound dig out on Monday following weeks of snowstorms that left parts of the town buried in more than 10 feet (3 meters) of snow.

More than 50 Guardsmen helped shovel snow off roofs, while heavy equipment barged in Sunday on night was being put to work moving and disposing of the snow, state officials said.

Following several slides, avalanche experts were also on their way to assess those dangers, the officials said.

Officials in the town of 2,200 people last week declared the snowbound city a disaster, triggering the state assistance.

"In Cordova, they've just been at this for two, three solid weeks of hitting one storm after another," said Jeremy Zidek, an Anchorage-based spokesman for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. "They're worn out. They don't have a lot of places to store snow."

The major safety hazards in Cordova are collapsed roofs and avalanches, though there are other issues such as clearing snow away from heating systems to avoid a build-up of carbon-monoxide, Zidek said.

Roofs have collapsed at three commercial buildings, including a restaurant.

Through December, 82 inches (2 meters) of snow fell on the town, and another 56 inches (1.42 meters) came in the first eight days of January, according to the Cordova Electric Cooperative.

The town is at the northern edge of the Pacific Northwest's temperate rain forest, and residents are accustomed to abundant winter precipitation. But this winter's snow accumulation levels so far are unusual.

"Our pattern is mostly freeze-thaw-snow-rain, back and forth," said Allen Marquette, Cordova city spokesman. "I've talked to some old-timers. Everybody's telling me that they don't remember this much snow this early."

Cordova typically gets 100 inches (2.54 meters) of snow in an entire winter, said National Weather Service meteorologist Don Moore.

Another system is due in on Tuesday, likely to add to the snow total, Moore said.

The repeated storms have also created problems in Valdez, another Prince William Sound port city that is coping with more than the usual abundance of snow.

December snowfall in Valdez totaled a record 152 inches (3.86 meters), Moore said, and so far 290 inches (7.36 meters) has fallen this winter. The city is on pace for a record winter snow accumulation, he said.

Local officials have issued avalanche warnings and put snow-clearing teams on overtime; one resident told Anchorage television station KTUU that he had to use a second-story window to exit his house.

Valdez, with about 4,000 residents, has more snow-fighting resources than Cordova and has not yet needed any special state assistance, Zidek said.

Despite the immediate problems, skiers are happy about the snow, Marquette said.

The glut of snow at the local ski area, Mount Eyak, has temporarily put the single chairlift there out of service, he said. But skiers expect to benefit from it in coming months, he said.

"It should make for incredible spring skiing in the high country," he said.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)

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