Icy sidewalks leave Anchorage residents sliding

Posted: Friday, December 08, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- When the seasons changed this year, Anchorage went from fall to slip-and-fall.

Unseasonably warm days and rain followed by winter chill has coated Anchorage sidewalks, sides streets and parking lots with ice, leading to everything from increased sales of ice grippers on shoes to training on how to fall.

''Today I've already sutured up five or six people for cuts from falling,'' said emergency room doctor Patti Paris of the Alaska Native Medical Center.

Most patients had only bruises and swelling, but some spills were more spectacular. One woman broke her wrist. An 85-year-old man knocked his head on the pavement.

''One guy actually got completely airborne,'' Paris said Thursday. ''There's a lot of bangs and bruises.''

''It's just slicker than glass in a lot of places,'' said Dennis Tidwell, manager of safety for the U.S. Postal Service in Alaska. The postal service has trained its workers in how to fall -- safely.

''Don't stick your hands out and catch yourself,'' Tidwell coaches. That can lead to broken limbs.

''Relax and let yourself hit the ground a little at a time,'' he said. ''If you're going to fall, you want to hit with the fleshy parts of your body, not the bony parts of your body. You want to fall on your butt or the sides of your legs.''

For a long icy walk with no handhold, Tidwell's advice is simple: Walk like a duck. The small, waddling steps should keep you upright.

A fall doesn't have to be a big deal to cause big damage, said physical therapist Kelly Blumer of Providence Alaska Medical Center. Fractures and concussions can happen to people trying to cross parking lots, Blumer said.

She recommends ice grippers worn over shoes or boots to provide traction on ice and snow.

''It's best if it's a type that includes the heel, because that's the part of your foot that strikes the ground first,'' Blumer said.

Grippers are ''selling off the shelves'' at REI, said cashier Jonathan Briggs. Some shoppers, their arms in casts, apparently came too late. ''I'm hearing stories,'' he said. ''Broken arms, broken wrists.''

By late Thursday, the store had sold out of its least expensive brand -- about $20 -- but still had two others at prices ranging up to about $60.

The Anchorage Senior Center sells grippers in its gift shop, and business has been brisk, said receptionist Nel Zimmer.

A high-pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska is expected to continue the freeze-thaw slickness. Dave Vonderheide of the National Weather Service said he's been hearing plenty of complaints.

''They call and they ask for the forecast, and when we give it to them, you can tell the disappointment in their voice,'' he said. ''I always tell them I'm in sales, not production.''

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