Cordova, Alaska, Still Snowed In

Cordova, Alaska, continues to accumulate piles of snow. Melissa Block talks with resident and innkeeper Wendy Rainey.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. On Tuesday, we talked with the mayor of Cordova, Alaska, and heard about the unusual amount of snow the city has received: at that point, more than 18 feet this winter. For an update, today, we reached Cordova resident Wendy Rainey. She and her husband run the Orca Adventure Lodge on the outskirts of town. She said, since Tuesday, there's been more snow than rain, and today, finally, is a beautiful day.

WENDY RAINEY: And a beautiful day up here right now is any day without precipitation. So it's very cold. We've switched gears and gone from rain, which we had a majority of yesterday, mixed rain and snow, making everything a big slushy mess, to a freeze last night. And now, we're looking at an ice skating rink.

BLOCK: Well, how are you keeping up with the shoveling?

RAINEY: We're actually catching up. We've had hired some folks from town and had a crew digging out here to the point where yesterday when the National Guard reached us for their list, we've turned away the diggers but did accept help with loaders.

BLOCK: Have you put the kids to work with the shovels?

RAINEY: Oh, yeah. We have twin 16-year-old boys that are intimately familiar with shovels right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: That's kind of harsh. You know, we have read earlier this week that Cordova needed a certain kind of shovel, a scoop shovel that it didn't have, that the shovels they had there just weren't able to keep up with the amount of snow. Is that true?

RAINEY: That's true. Actually, we made a desperate call to a company that comes in here in the winter, and they run a heli-ski operation. And we made a desperate call to them to airfreight us some shovels when this all started, and I'm really glad we did that because the shovels were breaking because of the weight of the snow. And once it crusted up and frozen, you can't even use the scoop shovels. It's just too dense to maneuver it.

BLOCK: What are you most worried about right now, Wendy?

RAINEY: Right now, the focus has changed from collapsing buildings to digging out fuel tanks and being able to keep the fuel supplies running so that we can continue to keep buildings heated, and we don't get a freeze-up.

BLOCK: And what about the kids? I know school was out earlier this week. What's happening there?

RAINEY: School has been out all week, so they've basically had roughly a month off for Christmas break this year, and I think they're ready to go back. I'm ready for them to go back, but...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAINEY: ...they've been keeping themselves pretty busy.

BLOCK: How unusual is it for school to be closed for so long?

RAINEY: I don't know that they've ever had a snow day that is on record here in Cordova.

BLOCK: Ever?

RAINEY: A lot of times, if you live out of town, it's kind of a parental decision. The school will say the buses aren't running. If, you know, if you want to keep your kids at home, please do. It's parental discretion, but I don't recall a weather day for the school.

BLOCK: Wendy, how high is the snow piled right now outside your lodge there?

RAINEY: We had a day of wind and rain, so it's actually come down a little bit, but there's still snow piles that are up over 20 feet. In town, they're 20 to 30 feet plus, and it's still - you really have to watch your kids because even though, you know, they're like a magnet for kids, they're not stable, and they are dangerous. And if a child fell into the center of a snow pile, it would be like being buried in an avalanche.

BLOCK: Wow. Well, what are you hearing about the forecast? Is there more snow on the way, or are you getting a break?

RAINEY: I think we're getting a break. We're at cold and clear right now, which is - it has its good and bad. You know, the cold and clear makes it very icy and very treacherous to maneuver, but I was digging out my ice spikes for my boots out of the closet this morning, and we'll keep going because this is only the beginning of the winter.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Wendy Rainey, who's co-owner of the Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, Alaska. Wendy, hang in there and thanks for talking with us.

RAINEY: Thank you. You guys have a great day.

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