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ANCHORAGE - Schools were closed in Anchorage today as residents tried to dig out from under a record snowfall over the weekend.
The storm caught the city by surprise, dumping 28.6 inches of snow for a new 24-hour record. Flights were canceled or diverted to Fairbanks and drivers got stuck on roads or wound up ditches.
The storm started at 4:50 p.m. Saturday and tapered off by 7 p.m. Sunday. It far surpassed Anchorage's 24-hour snowfall record of 15.6 inches, set Dec. 29, 1955.
School district officials decided to close public schools until Tuesday when they learned the city wouldn't clear out side streets and cul-de-sacs until sometime today. The University of Alaska Anchorage also was closed today, with classed resuming Tuesday.
On Sunday, Alaska Airlines canceled about a third of its 40 to 50 flights at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, a spokesman said.
"The operations are pretty much back to normal today," said Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Walsh. There are delays but not cancellations, he said.
Eighteen cargo planes were diverted to Fairbanks International Airport and another two cargo jets were sent to Eielson Air Force Base as Fairbanks International approached capacity.
"We had them everywhere," said Fairbanks Airport Superintendent Ric Barnett of the jets. "They were (covering) the entire length of our runway."
Airport dispatchers said no passenger flights were diverted to Fairbanks from Anchorage.
Sometime before 3 a.m. Sunday, an Eva Airways cargo jet collided with an Alaska Airlines passenger jet while taxiing at the airport, but airport spokesman Mark Butler said he didn't know the cause. There were no injuries, but both planes sustained damage, Butler said.
Throughout the Anchorage bowl Sunday, snow was falling at a rate of one to two inches an hour, according to the National Weather Service.
Forecasters had predicted snowfall of only 6 to 8 inches as late as 5 p.m. Saturday. Forecasters underestimated the amount of moisture in the air coming from a storm in the Gulf of Alaska, forecaster Neil Murakami said.
Anchorage street crews also underestimated the storm initially but were at full capacity by about 7 a.m. Sunday, said Sam Provenzano, the city's acting street maintenance director.
They piled the snow into huge mounds on road edges and medians and planned to transfer it to city snow dumps. With the fresh snow thigh-deep in places, authorities urged people to stay put. And most did.
"A part of the problem is that it's coming down as fast as we can rid of it, Provenzano said Sunday. "People out on the roads is also a problem. The streets are emptier than usual, but not enough."
Many who ventured out got stuck in deep snow banks or slid into ditches. Police dispatchers said emergency phone-lines were "ringing off the hook."
For the most part, businesses managed to stay open. But numerous workers called in to say they couldn't get their cars out of their driveways. And taxicabs were booked for hours.
Barbara Gorder, service manager at a Carrs Safeway store, was surprised to see the usual number of people decided to do their shopping.
"But I guess it's just like Alaskans to say, 'What the heck,' and go out anyway," Gorder said.