A power outage has forced residents of an Alaskan village on the Arctic Ocean to scurry from one building to another in search of warmth in subzero conditions, while state officials scramble to get repair crews to the isolated area.
“If hell can freeze over, this is it and it has,” said Arthur Smith in a telephone interview from Kaktovik, which is home to about 300 people in the state’s northeast corner, more than 200 miles beyond the Arctic Circle.
Smith crawled out of two down sleeping bags to answer the phone Monday at the local hotel where he’s caretaker.
The village’s power generating plant quit at about 5 p.m. Sunday during a blizzard in which 70 mph winds drove temperatures to 20 below zero — 60 below counting the wind chill.
By Monday afternoon temperatures had risen — barely — to 10 below zero with a wind chill of 50 below, according to the National Weather Service.
Most residents were coping by wearing winter gear indoors, and using propane and wood stoves and kerosene heaters. Some residents sought shelter at the village school, which had its own source of power. Then that, too, failed Sunday night.
Eight or nine families from the school moved to a village equipment maintenance building that still has power. But its generators depend on fuel tanks that are running low, authorities said.
An Alaska Air National Guard C-130 plane loaded with equipment and repair technicians left Anchorage for Kaktovik on Monday. But in Barrow, about 325 miles west of Kaktovik, the plane was delayed by a severe storm. Officials planned to try again Tuesday morning.
Jim Butchart, with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the situation is not life-threatening. But he said concerns are increasing that if power can’t be restored soon, the village pipes could freeze, causing extensive damage.