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Fuel shortage and blizzard leave St. George residents rationing heat and water

Grant and Security Aviation flew to St. George on Tuesday with fuel drums and cases of water for the community.
Courtesy Anastasia Kashevarof
Grant and Security Aviation flew to St. George on Tuesday with fuel drums and cases of water for the community.

St. George residents say they’ve been without running water since Saturday. That’s after a fuel barge delay and stormy weather caused widespread power outages and forced residents to ration heat in their homes amidst freezing temperatures.

“Whatever led up to the situation where all the sudden we don't have any fuel in the dead of winter, and with all these storms coming through, is beyond me,” said St. George resident Victor Malavansky. “I would like to say this is totally unacceptable.”

Malavansky is 70 years old and has spent nearly his whole life in St. George, a small island north of the Aleutian Chain where elders make up about 75% of the 50-person population.

Malavansky said there have been fuel emergencies in the past, when fuel drums had to be flown to the remote island because barges couldn’t get in.

“But this time, the news, it pretty much floored me,” he said. “How in the world did we ever get to this point? I don't know.”

Malavansky said he’s been trying to ration his heat and water, which is particularly hard during the cold winter months.

On top of the fuel shortage, a blizzard last weekend broke water lines and drained the island’s water tanks.

Resident Anastasia Kashevarof said some community members have been brought to tears over the situation.

“These winter months are pretty harsh, especially during December and January, and all the way through March,” she said. “And nobody should have to be rationing their fuel, not using hot water, not washing a lot, not [taking] a shower. I think it's ridiculous, and there should have been no way in heck that we should have come to the situation.”

Kashevarof said the community became aware of the fuel shortage about a week and a half ago.

Fuel is normally barged into St. George, but a storm surge has held up that barge, and as the delay lingered, the community started running out of fuel to power the island’s sole diesel power plant.

On Saturday, the community contacted the state Emergency Operations Center to say they were down to one functioning generator.

“From what we understand, the power generation issues may have been caused by low fuel and some dirty fuel, as they were kind of getting to the bottom of the tank,” said Jeremy Zidek, a public information officer with the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “That led to rationing of electricity, which reduced the flow in their pipes and led to freeze up there.”

But Zidek said he expects the worst is over, and St. George residents will have access to running water and full fuel tanks soon.

Delta Western – the fuel company that has been serving the community for 20 years – flew in nearly 4,500 gallons of fuel on Tuesday. A representative from the company also said, barring any weather or mechanical problems, they anticipate a resupply vessel to arrive this weekend with the remainder of the winter supply.

Meanwhile, maintenance staff are working to get the water system thawed and back online, but the community remained under a boil-water warning Thursday.

Zidek said the state talked to the community about activating their school as an emergency shelter. Right now, the location is in what he calls a “warm status” where it isn’t currently being used, but could be if conditions get worse.

Zidek said across the state, there are a number of communities that have been dealing with extreme cold weather, high winds and blizzard conditions for a while now. He said at least 10 communities are experiencing some type of power or water issue because of that.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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