Kodiak Daily Mirror - When icy weather moves in isolated Chiniak gets the slick end
When icy weather moves in, isolated Chiniak gets the slick end
by James Brooks / editor@kodiakdailymirror.com
Dec 01, 2011 | 264 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KODIAK — When a warm Chinook storm combined with Kodiak’s second-snowiest November, it created icy conditions throughout the Kodiak road system.

Cars slid off roads, pedestrians stumbled and transportation was snarled across the island.

No place was harder hit than Chiniak, exposed on a cape at the end of the road system. Conditions there were so icy that a Zamboni might have been the best way to get around.

“People were stuck on the side of the road for hours and hours last night,” said Chiniak resident Amanda Koch, who described the scene. “As soon as it rains, it’s just an ice skating rink.”

Conditions were so bad that two school buses sent to Chiniak school never made it. The first bus went into a ditch about 2 p.m. while on its way to pick up students.

Logging trucks, which use the Chiniak highway on a regular basis, stopped running about noon.

The second bus, returning from Kodiak High School and carrying junior Aaron Koch, gave up after encountering an impassable hill.

“We were trying to come down the hill really slowly,” he said. “We had to use the guardrail to keep us from sliding all the way down.”

Using a snow berm next to the guardrail gave the bus traction, but it moved so slowly that eventually it got stuck despite three chained tires.

The bus was later pulled free, but its driver, knowing steeper hills lay between it and Chiniak, decided to turn back. Koch was picked up by his grandparents, who were also returning to Chiniak from Kodiak.

Richard Wood, Koch’s grandfather, said road conditions were the worst he’s seen in 15 years.

After Wood picked up Koch, his car got stopped by an icy hill near the Chiniak post office. He wasn’t alone — a handful of other people found themselves stopped by the conditions.

Hester Cook, who rents the former Ninth Wave Bed and Breakfast near the post office, decided she couldn’t let them sit in the cold.

“We went down and got them,” she said, describing how she gave stuck travelers a place to stay overnight. “We had two on couches, one in the recliner, and we had beds for the rest. We put together some quick dinner, then we all had breakfast.”

As the stranded men and women settled in at the Cook home, First Student bus company manager Jerry Clark was bound for Chiniak school in a four-wheel-drive bus equipped with tire chains.

“It was the second-worst conditions I’ve seen in almost 10 years,” he said. “Driving about 15 mph, we got to the school about 7, turned around and got everybody dropped off about 8, got back here to the facility about 9:30.”

The state of Alaska maintains the Chiniak highway and plow trucks were sanding the highway, but heavy rain washed everything away as soon as it was laid down, said Sharon Barrett of the Alaska Department of Transportation.

“Rain and wind don’t help sand stay,” she said.

The poor conditions continued through the night and into Wednesday morning, when Clark canceled the regular morning school bus to Chiniak and the school district made classes optional.

A DOT scraper grooved the ice for traction on Wednesday morning, but the warm weather and melting ice kept washing away the salt, sand and gravel.

Clark said he expected to be able to run buses this morning, but it would depend on conditions.

“It’s a tough call, because … often our bus is the first vehicle out there on the road going to Chiniak,” he said.

Even if conditions continue to improve as temperatures remain above freezing, Chiniak residents said they need DOT to keep the highway open in future storms.

“They seem to forget about us when things happen in town,” Amanda Koch said.

Wood had harsher words.

“We need to get some God-dang action going on here,” he said. “We’ve got a long winter ahead of us.”

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiakdailymirror.com.
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