Disaster designation given

Seward Highway expected to open sometime today, but power may take longer to restore to Seward

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2000

ANCHORAGE - State Department of Transportation crews worked overnight to plow through avalanches, hoping to reopen parts of the road between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.

``The DOT is estimating that the Seward Highway to Girdwood should be reopened sometime today, weather permitting,'' Wayne Rush, a spokesman for the State Emergency Coordination Center in Anchorage, said this morning.

The ski resort community of Girdwood is 40 miles south of Anchorage.

As Southcentral Alaska dug out from the snowslides, Gov. Tony Knowles sought federal assistance by declaring a disaster emergency for the area after the state's worst avalanches in decades stranded thousands of residents, cut power and killed a railroad worker.

A disaster designation would position the region for federal loans and other relief as government officials prepare to survey the area.

Knowles did not cite an overall damage amount in Thursday's declaration, but mentioned such areas as the Prince William Sound city of Cordova, where an avalanche last week caused $2.6 million in damage and killed one person.

While the Seward Highway to Girdwood could be cleared as early as today, restoring power knocked out by the slides could take longer, said Joe Perkins, the state's transportation commissioner. Five power line breaks were reported between Seward and Girdwood.

``It's going to take them some time to fix that,'' Perkins said.

The extreme avalanche conditions have been caused by heavy snowfall, followed by rising temperatures. Anchorage, which normally gets about 9 inches of snow in January, was buried under 34 inches last month, and temperatures during the past week have been in the 30s.

In Girdwood, stranded travelers took refuge in bed and breakfasts, hotels and an emergency shelter set up at a school.

``Everyone's been very nice to us,'' said Robert Milburn of Crown Point, north of Seward. ``But it's just been really boring. We've had nothing to do but try to sleep.''

Further south on the Kenai Peninsula, the heavy snow loads have been causing structural damage.

A roof collapsed at a business called the Master's Vineyard, a beam cracked at the Gold Strike Lanes bowling alley and trusses were damaged at the Peninsula Center Mall.

``They have to remove the snow, but the removal may trigger a collapse,'' Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal Gary Hale told the Peninsula Clarion. ``It's about a 20- to 25-foot drop to the floor.''

Ridding the roofs of snow is becoming more difficult by the day, officials said.

``That snow is really starting to pack with the rain and these (warm) temperatures,'' Hale said.

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