Tanker carrying fuel arrives at iced-in Nome

NOME, Alaska (AP) — Crews worked to build a path Sunday over a half-mile of Bering Sea ice for the final leg of a Russian tanker’s mission to deliver fuel to a town isolated amid one of the most severe Alaska winters in decades.

The tanker was moored roughly a half-mile from Nome’s harbor after a Coast Guard cutter cleared a path for it through hundreds of miles of a slow journey stalled by thick ice and strong ocean currents.

The tanker got into position Saturday night, and ice disturbed by its journey had to freeze again so workers could create some sort of roadway to lay a hose that will transfer 1.3 million gallons of fuel from the tanker to the harbor in Nome.

On Sunday, workers spent the morning walking around the vessel and checking the ice to make sure it was safe to lay the hose, which will take about four hours, said Jason Evans, board chairman of the Sitnasuak Native Corp.

With the tanker and the Coast Guard ice breaker sitting just offshore and poised to deliver the fuel, Evans said the bulk of the mission’s biggest challenges were now behind the crew.

Still, the final job of transferring fuel from the ship to the town comes with its own hurdles: In addition to waiting for the ice to freeze, crews must begin the transfer in daylight, a state mandate. But Nome has just five hours of daylight this time of year.

“In theory, it was possible and in reality, it now is done,” Evans said of the journey.

A storm prevented Nome’s 3,500 residents from getting a fuel delivery by barge in November. Without the tanker delivery, supplies of diesel fuel, gasoline and home heating fuel Nome are expected to run out in March and April, well before a barge delivery again in late May or June.

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