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In Alaska: Nome Still Waits For Fuel, Big Shovels Headed To Cordova

A member of the Alaska National Guard clearing a walkway in Cordova earlier this week.
Spc. Balinda O'Neal, Alaska National Guard
A member of the Alaska National Guard clearing a walkway in Cordova earlier this week.

It's hard to fathom from afar just how rough the weather has been in parts of Alaska for the past month or so. It's winter, sure. But things have been particularly brutal. And there seems to be no end in sight.

Here's some of the latest news about how thing are going:

-- That Russian tanker carrying 1.3 million gallons of fuel for the 3,500 residents of Nome on the western side of the state is still about 90 miles from the city. The going is very slow as a Coast Guard icebreaker tries to clear a path. Tuesday, they advanced about nine miles — but then drifted back about three.

The Anchorage Daily News reports today that the effort is being aided by a "camera-equipped drone [that] looks like a smoke detector with wings and legs." It's flying out of Nome to beam back pictures of the ice as authorities try to plot the best possible route to get the tanker as close as possible. The images should also help once it comes time to lay out the mile-long hose the ship can use for offloading.

-- In the town of Cordova, to the east, folks are still digging out from the snow that keeps falling (they've had an estimated 15 feet so far this winter, not the 18 feet that some authorities were citing earlier this week, but that's not much comfort). The strain of shoveling off roofs has lead to some sore backs, and a plan to bring in some pretty heavy duty shovels.

"We have the National Guard right now using the standard shovel, and they're getting pretty trashed everyday — not the shovels but the Guardsmen themselves," city spokesman Tim Joyce tells the Daily News.

So, the city is buying 72 of the Garant company's 26-inch wide Yukon Ergo "Poly Sleight" shovels, at about $50 each. They're on the way, Garant product manager Genevieve Gagne tells the Daily News.

You can get a sense of how hard the Guard personnel are working in this video from the Department of Defense.

-- Meanwhile, the city of Valdez has also been snowed under. But Tony Gorman reports for our Newscast desk that officials there say they won't declare an emergency, as was done in Cordova. "Valdez prides itself on being the snow capital of the world. And for us to declare a snow emergency would frankly be humiliating," says John Hozey, the city manager.

Tony Gorman, reporting from Valdez

Correction at 8:55 a.m. ET, Jan. 16: We mistakenly referred to Tony Gorman as "Tom" Gorman in our original post.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.