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Fairbanks area hammered by heavy snow, power outages

A disaster declaration was being discussed Wednesday evening by the Fairbanks North Star Borough after snowfall caused thousands of customer power outages and paralyzed much of the area, borough spokesperson Lanien Livingston said.

According to Livingston, a final decision on the declaration won't be made until Thursday or Friday.

At about 6:10 p.m. Wednesday, Golden Valley Electric Association reported 7,000 customers didn't have power. A few hours later, the company said it "continued to make headway," although there were still "a lot" of trees down on power lines.

GVEA had reported on Wednesday morning that more than 20,000 people had lost power at some point overnight Tuesday as heavy snow fell.

"Due to the outages being so widespread, it is impossible to list all the streets or neighborhoods that crews are working (on)," GVEA wrote on Facebook.

GVEA said larger outages would be repaired first, with more "isolated" outages after, and asked customers to leave their front and back porch lights on to help crews determine who has power and who doesn't.

Anyone in need of assistance can call GVEA at 907-452-1151 or email them at info@gvea.com.

"Members need to anticipate the possibility that it could take days to get every meter restored," GVEA wrote on its Facebook page, adding that more rain, wind or snow could slow down the progress of repairs.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at 3 p.m. at the University Community Presbyterian Church at 3510 College Road in Fairbanks.

A second shelter opened at the North Pole Fire Department Annex at 110 Lewis St. on Wednesday evening.

In addition to the Red Cross shelters, borough facilities could also offer help, Livingston said. Shower stalls at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, the Hamme Pool and the Mary Siah Recreation Center pool are expected to be available for public use. The Noel Wien and North Pole libraries will be available to charge electronic devices or for Internet access.

GCI reported to the borough that "many cell towers" were down because of the power outage, according to borough spokesperson Amber Courtney.

"So that means people can't call 911 from their cellphones; they'll need to find landlines," Courtney said.

Department of Transportation spokesperson Meadow Bailey said DOT would plow roads according to a priority schedule and added that the agency would not remove the snow.

Courtney also said that the city's public works department was checking to see whether people were keeping their snow on their own property as they cleared driveways. She said snow pushed into roads can freeze, creating berms in the middle of the road.

"People don't know that it's actually against city code to do that," Courtney said.

Although the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District canceled school Wednesday, a note on the district's Facebook page from Superintendent Karen Gaborik said she was "optimistic" that school would be back in session Thursday.

"For many of our families it is safer and more convenient if students who have spent nights without power can be in a warm school during the day while parents attend to challenges at home, report to work if they need to, etc," the post said.

The district also said buses may have to use alternate routes and special education buses may not be able to pick up at each student's front door, although they'd get as close as possible.

Updated information on school information will be posted to Facebook and the district's website.

In a special weather statement, the National Weather Service said Fairbanks set a new daily snowfall record of 11.2 inches on Tuesday. The previous record had been set in 1972 at 7 inches.

NWS said North Pole accumulated 10 inches of snow, Mile 3 of Chena Hot Springs Road reported 15 inches, South Fox reported 15.5 inches and the University of Alaska Fairbanks accumulated 13 inches.

Snow was expected to fall in Fairbanks on Wednesday night and continue through the weekend. There were no winter storm warnings in effect late Wednesday evening in any part of the Interior.

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