ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Dozens of National Guard troops armed with shovels deployed across a southeast Alaska fishing town on Monday after the coastal region was swamped with too much snow.
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Worst hit was Cordova, a town used to snow, but not like this season's blanketing.
The Guard reported more than 18 feet of snow has fallen in the past few weeks.
"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."
At least three buildings have collapsed or partially collapsed and six homes are deemed severely stressed by heavy wet snow, officials said.
Schools were closed Monday to keep children off the roads and sidewalks.
The drifts are 12 to 14 feet high, but most roofs in town have been shoveled, said Chris Dunlap, a Cordova resident who was manning an empty Red Cross shelter early Monday.
"It's a lot of snow. I've lived here 33 years and this is the most snow I've ever seen," she said by phone. "The thing I'm impressed most with is we haven't had any injuries. Maybe a few back strains from all of the shoveling."
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More than 24 feet in neighboring town
In Valdez, the other major town in Alaska's Prince William Sound, snow is also an issue, with more than 24 feet so far this season — 12 feet above normal.
After a dump over the weekend, Valdez resident Kevin Kimber said he had to crawl out of his upstairs window to get out.
"I woke up to have about 10 feet of snow in front of my door, so I had to crawl out of the house and I was finally able to get to my truck," NBC affiliate KTUU TV quoted Kimber as saying.
Another Valdez resident stayed home Friday because of the snow.
"It’s just white," Trish Stowe said. "It’s hard to see the edges of the road or — well, there are no edges. You just run into snow banks."
In Cordova, townspokesman Allen Marquette told the Alaska Dispatch that clearing roofs became top priority on Sunday.
"It's an ongoing issue," Marquette said. "Because of the rains, a lot of the (snow on) roofs did slough and fall off, so some doors were blocked."
Marquette said he'd started trying to get snow off his roof Saturday, but estimated there was still about six feet Sunday.
"I’m six-foot four, and I couldn't see over the top," he told the paper. "There'snot a snow shovel left in town."
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.
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."
Rain makes it slippery
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 entire 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.
Bad weather has prevented the Guard from flying to the town, 150 miles southeast of Anchorage.
More than 70 Guard members arrived in Cordova via state ferry on Sunday. About 50 of them will help clear roofs, roads, boats. The rest will provide other assistance. The state also is working on bringing in more heavy equipment to Cordova.
An avalanche brought snow and debris down on a section of the Copper River Highway, the 12-mile link from the town to the local airport. State transportation officials said a secondary road was opened to two-lane traffic while crews cleared the highway Sunday.Story: Tanker plows toward cut-off Alaska city
Another storm that started Saturday also brought rain, which soaked into the snow, weighing it down.
Some roads have been cleared, but residents also are being creative, traveling on foot and by skis and snowshoes, officials said.
The National Weather Service said the snow depth at the airport measured 59 inches before the rain fell, weighing the level down to 47 inches. Monday was supposed to be clear before another system moves in Tuesday, bringing more snow and rain, as well as winds as strong as 40 mph.
"This break in the weather is very critical and very fortunate," meteorologist Don Moore said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.