Glacier threatens school

Posted: Tuesday, February 08, 2000

WHITTIER (AP) -- Students in Whittier got the day off from school Monday because officials feared the Whittier Glacier could give way, sending slabs of rain-heavy snow down onto the school building.

Doug Fesler, an avalanche expert with the Alaska Mountain Safety Center in Anchorage, was on his way to the town Monday afternoon to get a look at the glacier and advise the town and its nearly 300 residents.

Town manager Carrie Williams said in the meantime a decision was made to give its approximately 35 students a day off from school.

Dean Rand, who operates Discovery Voyages cruises out of Whittier, said the oldtimers of the town think officials might be over-reacting. Instead of school, his two girls spent the day hiking and making collages. ''All the locals that have been here awhile are chuckling,'' Rand said.

The Division of Emergency Services recommended the school be closed after flying over the glacier, which is almost directly above the town.

Milder weather and recent rains have made the snow heavy, causing horizontal cracks to form in the glacier. Three years ago, an avalanche let go and stopped 500 feet from the school building.

''It is almost a straight drop down,'' Williams said.

A shortened school day was to be held today in the community room of the town's 14 floor condominium building. Williams could not predict when the students would return to the school building.

''We kind of are on a day to day basis,'' she said.

Williams said Fesler also will be looking at an area that sits above the Alaska Railroad terminal. A slide from that slope could create waves that could damage docks and barges.

The town is still on backup emergency power after snowslides and storms took out the power supply on Jan. 31. Williams said the town was making out fine, and the state Department of Energy was bringing in an additional generator until Chugach Electric made repairs.

A small avalanche Monday afternoon closed a portion of the Richardson Highway at the Mile 95 marker near Willow Lake, said Terry Smith, manager of the state emergency coordination center. Crews were clearing the road.

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