Alaska snow and ice cuts off Cordova and Nome

Cordova resident JR Lewis: "The snow is having an impact on buildings, with some collapsing"

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Extreme winter weather has left one Alaskan town battling huge snowdrifts and forced another to seek fuel supplies from a Russian tanker.

National Guard troops are in Cordova, helping the town dig out after fresh snowfalls on Tuesday added to the 18ft (5.5m) that has fallen since November.

A US Coast Guard icebreaker and a Russian tanker are trying to resupply Nome, cut off by thick sea ice.

The town is running out of fuel after a previous storm blocked a shipment.

The US ship, the Healy, is attempting to cut a path through thick ice in the Bering Sea, ahead of the Russian tanker Renda which is carrying 1.3m gallons (4.9m litres) of oil.

Shifting ice up to 3ft thick in the area is hindering the process, forcing the ice-breaker to double back to recut the path.

The scale of the mission is unprecedented for the US Coast Guard in the Arctic, Commander Greg Tlapa told the Associated Press.

If they succeed, they would be the first ships to make a delivery to western Alaska in the depths of winter.

Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley said the two vessels were less than 100 miles (160km) from Nome on Tuesday afternoon, having covered 53 miles on Monday.

A severe autumn storm prevented the usual pre-winter delivery of fuel before the town was iced in and cut off until spring.

Temperatures regularly drop below zero Fahrenheit (-18C) in January.

The resupply effort also needed to clear bureaucratic hurdles - a waiver was needed to allow a non-US ship to deliver the goods.

Flying in the fuel would be possible but extremely expensive, Nome officials say.

'Epic snowfall'

In Cordova, a fishing town only accessible by air and water in winter, fresh snow on Tuesday added to the burden of the town's 2,200 residents.

Dozens of National Guard soldiers are helping dig out drifts in order to keep municipal buildings, including the hospital, open and make sure residents can leave their homes.

Earlier heavy falls of snow were followed over the weekend by rain that weighed down the snow, creating dangerous conditions.

The S/V Healy breaks through ice in the Bering Sea on 6 January 2012 Pressure on the ice is so great that the icebreaker has needed to circle back to reopen the path

Some roofs in the town have collapsed or caved in under the weight of up to 7ft of snow.

"This is epic. This is snow in amounts and weights that we are not used to and it's difficult to handle," Wendy Rainy, who works in the Orca Adventure Lodge in Cordova, told the BBC.

"The road to our airport has been closed again due to danger of avalanche and when there's high winds, the boats cannot dock in Cordova, so I'd have to say pretty much at this point we're cut off."

John Madden, the director of Alaska's division of homeland security and emergency management, told the BBC that Tuesday's storm meant crews would unlikely to be able to get back to work until the weekend.

Drifts from the pitched roof of one restaurant slid off and broke the roof of a back shed. A bank building also suffered an interior buckled wall.

No injuries have been reported so far in the town, but Alaska officials state of emergency was declared on Friday. National Guard troops arrived on Sunday to begin digging out.

Sunday's arrival also included a snow-melting machine, and equipment to help dig out the buildings at greatest risk.

Cordova is estimated to have received 18ft to 20ft of snow in the past 60 days, Mr Madden said.

"It's the right time of the year for storms, but we have had so many", he said, adding that the town has been hit by three separate storms within the past seven days.

"The only thing we're really lacking is - there's not a snow shovel left in town," Allen Marquette, a city spokesman told the Alaska Dispatch newspaper.

The town has put in an order with a manufacturer after no shovels could be found in Anchorage, Fairbanks and other cities, Associated Press news agency said.

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