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Alaska Digest

Posted: Friday, December 24, 2004

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / The Associated Press

Grounded freighter's bow section sinks

ANCHORAGE - The bow section of a grounded freighter off Unalaska Island has sunk and the 176,473 gallons of oil inside is thought to have already spilled into the Bering Sea.

Violent storms and harsh conditions had kept salvage and cleanup crews stuck in Dutch Harbor for days. When skies cleared Thursday, officials found the front section of the Selendang Ayu had sunk to the tip of its bow.

The ship is in two pieces in the Aleutian chain after drifting powerless and running aground Dec. 8. The 738-foot freighter was carrying soybeans, 424,000 gallons of intermediate fuel oil and 18,000 gallons of diesel.

Salvage crews still plan to attempt unloading more than 80,000 gallons of fuel from two smaller tanks in the stern of the ship. But the three biggest tanks - totaling 321,058 gallons of oil and stretching the length of the ship - are believed to be ruptured and the fuel inside lost, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Sara Francis.

The bow section had earlier been judged unsafe to attempt removing the 176,473 gallons of fuel in the tank there, but response officials had hoped a salvage team could come up with a plan to recover that oil.

The Selendang Ayu was hauling soybeans to China when it grounded into a shoal after drifting for nearly two days. Six crew members were lost at sea and are presumed dead after a Coast Guard rescue helicopter crashed soon after lifting them off the freighter.

Federal heating aid available to the poor

JUNEAU - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is sending $685,991 to Alaska to help low-income families cover their heating bills.

The emergency funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is part of a $100 million aid package being distributed nationwide. The appropriation constitutes one-third of the contingency funds made available in the 2005 omnibus appropriations bill.

"This assistance will help thousands stay warm in the new year," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a written statement.

Individuals can apply for LIHEAP assistance by visiting the Web at www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/liheap/directry.htm.

Peace group holds party for deportee

JUNEAU - Juneau People for Peace and Justice will hold a party Monday for Ernesto Guillen, who will be deported to his native Mexico on Feb. 6 after being in the United States for 19 years.

Guillen, 34, came to the United States at age 15 to join his mother and brother. Immigration officers arrested him last March at El Sombrero in downtown Juneau on a charge of illegally staying in the United States. His family will be separated because his wife is a legal permanent resident and his four children are American citizens.

To campaign for the family, Juneau People for Peace and Justice will hold a fiesta at Northern Light United Church, where people can enjoy authentic Mexican food while they write letters to government officials on behalf of the family. The party starts at 5 p.m. At 7 p.m., naturalist Richard Carstensen will make a slide presentation about immigrant birds in Mexico.

Contact K. J. Metcalf at 586-6738 or Judith Maier, 789-9229 for more information.

Family's deaths classified as double homicide-suicide

ANCHORAGE - The deaths of an Anchorage woman and her two school-age children have been classified as a double homicide-suicide, police said Thursday.

Diana Crapps, 37, killed herself and her children, Alexander, 12, and Cynthia, 10, by carbon monoxide poisoning. She left her car idling in the garage, and the home was filled with exhaust fumes when officers arrived at the house Dec. 7, police said.

Police had been dispatched to do a welfare check. Police forced entry at the house, where they took turns holding their breath and entering the home to look for the mother and children.

All three were upstairs in the house and beyond resuscitation, police said.

Kenai plant to close in November 2005

KENAI - A Kenai Peninsula nitrogen plant likely will close next fall, and severance packages and career counseling are already being prepared for the plant's 230 workers, Agrium officials said.

Agrium spokeswoman Lisa Parker said she wasn't certain when the first layoffs would occur. The lost jobs would amount to $20 million in wages.

Parker said Agrium will go forward with meetings next month in an attempt to find alternative gas sources, but the plant's closure is imminent.

Agrium announced in a news release Dec. 14 that it settled a lawsuit with Unocal Corp., its natural gas supplier, guaranteeing a natural gas supply at its current price through Oct. 31.

Richard Downey, director of investor and media relations for Agrium, said options will continue to be explored to keep the plant open, but it is extremely unlikely.

Man killed, officer wounded in gunfight

FAIRBANKS - A man was fatally shot and a Fairbanks police officer wounded in a gunfight Thursday after officers tried to stop the man for driving a pickup with a broken taillight.

The dead man's identity was being withheld until relatives could be notified. He had only been in Alaska about a year, said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers.

The identities of the three officers involved will be made public on today, he said. All three are on paid leave.

Two Fairbanks Airport Police officers pursued the driver through the city, joined by a Fairbanks Police Department patrol officer, and found the vehicle in a ditch about seven miles north of the city.

The driver fled the vehicle and the officers went after him. The driver had a gun and fired it, Wilkinson said. The officers returned fire.

A Fairbanks police officer was wounded in the right thigh. A second shot is believed to have been deflected by his protective vest, Wilkinson said.

The driver was shot at least once. Efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene by a University of Alaska Fairbanks ambulance crew, troopers said.

The case is being investigated by the Alaska Bureau of Investigation with the assistance of the Airport and Fairbanks police departments.

Alaska national parks set record

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's 15 national parks set a record for visits in 2004, with the most the popular spot being the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway.

Preliminary numbers put the recreational visitor count at just under 2.3 million, the National Park Service said. That's about 100,000 more than in 2003, also a record year.

Five parks drew the majority of visitors. The Klondike park attracted more than 843,000 people.

Denali, Glacier Bay, Sitka and Kenai Fjords were the others in the Top Five.

The national park site with the fewest visitors this year - 154 people - was the remote Aniakchak National Monument, which is accessible only by plane or boat, has no tourist facilities and no developed trails. Aniakchak monument is about 150 miles southwest of Kodiak.



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