ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Hotel caretaker Arthur Smith crawled out of two down sleeping bags – good to 40 degrees below zero – to answer the phone Monday at the Waldo Arms Hotel in Kaktovik.
A power outage has forced many of the 300 residents of Kaktovik, on the Arctic Ocean in Alaska’s northeast corner, to scurry from one building to another in search of warmth.
“If hell can freeze over, this is it – and it has,” Smith said.
The power generation plant quit Sunday during a blizzard in which 70- mph winds drove temperatures to 20- degrees below zero. Many residents sought shelter at the village school, which had its own source of power until that went out too on Sunday night.
Eight or nine families from the school were moved to the village’s heavy equipment maintenance building because it still had power.
The power failure led to a freeze-up of all heavy equipment, making it impossible to keep roads passable.
This time of year, Kaktovik gets only about four hours of twilight at midday. To compound the problem, the village airport runway has no lights.
Concerns are increasing that if power can’t be restored soon and the village pipes freeze, it could result in a lot of infrastructure damage.
Kaktovik is the last of seven villages in the North Slope Borough to get modern water and sewer services. The borough is spending more than $300,000 per building to bring modern plumbing to the village.
“Certainly, we don’t want to lose that,” said Jim Butchart of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
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