ByÂ Gloria Goodale, Christian Science Monitor
Two human dramas are continuing to unfold in the nationâ€™s coldest state.
The tiny town of Cordova (pop. 2,300), nestled inPrince William Sound, races to dig out from â€œsnowpocalypse,â€ its worst snow disaster in living memory, even as new snow falls Tuesday.
A thousand miles to the north, a RussianÂ tanker loaded withÂ critical supplies ekes out a path through treacherous early-season ice toward Nome, bearing the fuel necessary for the tiny hamletâ€™s winter survival.
Neither town is accessible by road.
While the two emergencies are very different in nature â€“ one completely weather-driven, the second a murky mix of weather problems and human error â€“ both can be seen as rich in lessons for a region that anticipates an increase in vessel traffic through theÂ Bering Strait, and continued extreme winters.
â€œThis is the first time we have ever sent an ice-clearing operation through the early ice,â€ says Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley,Â a spokesman for theÂ US Coast GuardÂ operating out ofÂ Anchorage. The Coast Guard ice-breaking ship is clearing the way for the Russian vessel, averaging speeds of between 5 and 9 miles per hour.
Ice-breaking operations normally handle â€œoldâ€ ice, in the spring and summer,Â he points out, when the ice formations are more predictable.
In this unprecedented operation, the ship is tackling newly-formed ice that is â€œextremely dynamic,â€Â and therefore more challenging, says Officer Mosley. â€œProgress under these conditions is very hard…. Iâ€™m sure we will be poring over the lessons learned from this operation for a long time.â€
Across the state in Cordova, after 24 straight days of hard snowfall, city officials declared an emergency, and on Friday mounted the first-ever incidentÂ command center, complete with a public information officer, a logistics point-person, and a finance officer. Within 19 hours, 57 National Guardsmen were mustered from Anchorage while graders and snow-melting machinery arrived via barges.
Surprising even themselves, says public information officer Allen Marquette, the clean-up effort “has been an amazingly smooth, well-oiled response to a genuine emergency.â€
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