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Building officials in Anchorage aim to identify roofs prone to fail under heavy snow

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Even by Alaska standards, Anchorage has seen a lot of snow this winter. Record snowfall has overwhelmed snow removal crews, shut down schools and made roofs collapse. Here is Alaska Public Media's Jeremy Hsieh.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNOW BLOWER STARTING)

JEREMY HSIEH, BYLINE: Chad Hansen just used a big forklift to deliver three snow blowers to the flat roof of this one-story office building. The snow is thigh deep up here and literally weighs tons. It's a blue sky day, but with the blowers flinging snow into the air, the strip malls nearby look like they're in a snow globe.

CHAD HANSEN: Oh, this is just fun, isn't it?

HSIEH: Yeah.

HANSEN: Did that one last night and now this one today.

HSIEH: Hansen owns General Roofing Company. This scruffy crew has been busy since November, and now they're short a few guys. Hansen says they've been getting worn out.

HANSEN: There's a snow scoop right there, man. Jump right on in.

HSIEH: (Laughter) No, I think I'm going to...

HANSEN: Thirty bucks an hour, I'll get you up here.

HSIEH: I got - well, 30 bucks an hour, maybe. If I get a side gig, maybe.

HANSEN: Hey, you know, there's a lot of it to go around right now, you know?

HSIEH: At the end of January, Anchorage already had more than 100 inches of snow for the season, about twice the average up to that point. It was the earliest the city of about 290,000 has ever crossed that mark. Last winter was also unusually snowy, and since then at least 19 roofs have collapsed. One of them killed a woman at her CrossFit gym at about this time last winter. Daniel King is a city engineer who's been investigating the roof failures.

DANIEL KING: So it's an evolving situation where we're trying to move as quickly as the situation is growing, as the danger grows.

HSIEH: His office recently mailed out more than 7,000 notices to property owners and their tenants to warn them that their roofs might have the same kind of supports they've been seeing fail. Michelle Parton (ph) is visiting Anchorage in part because of the snow. She's checking out Snowzilla, a gigantic two-story snowman a local built in his yard on a suburban street. She's from Redmond, Wash., where...

MICHELLE PARTON: It's been so warm that we don't really feel like we had a winter. And so to come up here and to see all your snow and your mountains is so amazing.

HSIEH: Even though February hasn't been very snowy, there are still snow berms along roads and sidewalks all over town that are taller than most people. And there's more snow in the forecast.

For NPR News, I'm Jeremy Hsieh in Anchorage.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OLYMPIANS' "SAGITTARIUS BY MOONLIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeremy Hsieh
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