Boxed out: Stormy weather disrupts flights, ships for two weeks; mailboxes, grocery shelves largely empty

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If visitors arriving for Polarjazz (or whatever) this week feel the shelves at the supermarket are a little thinly stocked, it’s a bountiful harvest compared to what’s been available much of the past two weeks.

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Shelves designated for hot dogs, cold cuts and other prepared meats are mostly empty at Svalbardbutikken on Tuesday shortly before supplies from a ship arrive. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Stormy weather that kept nearly all mail flights from arriving for five days beginning two weeks ago Monday and further weather-related delays with a cargo ship this week have put those in Longyearbyen on a restricted diet notably lacking in fresh meat, daily and produce.

Supplies from the ship finally reached Svalbardbutikken on Tuesday and, while not all the shelves are filled, the selection has gone a long ways toward catching up.

“We must be aware that we live in Svalbard and that sort of thing can happen,” Manager Karin Mella told Svalbardposten, noting hotels were also struggling with a lack of supplies. “There is bad that we have no other option when the weather is bad, but that’s it.”

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Food awaits stocking on nearly empty shelves behind them Tuesday at Svalbardbutikken as disruptions continued last week. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The supermarket does keep a large stock of frozen and non-perishable items in its warehouse that in theory could feel the town for weeks if necessary.

The disruptions have also resulted in a major backlog of mail, to the point the post office opened on a rare Sunday a week ago and begged residents to come in and pick up packages that had arrived the day before.

“We will get more parcels this afternoon so we need the space,” said Oddny Slatlem, manager of the post office where she has worked for the past eight years.

One mail flight landed each of the two previous days, but extra flights scheduled on each were cancelled.

Slatlem said she has not expected a disruption of this length before. But she said the post office has been opened on Sundays for occasions such as a large number of tourists visiting town or when flight disruptions cause extraordinary circumstances, including opening last Easter to ensure residents had their mail for the holiday.

Residents responding to a Facebook plea by Slatlem to pick up their mail between 2 and 4 p.m. a week ago Sunday almost universally offered praise for being open extra hours. One of the first people to pick up mail on Sunday afternoon, Trie Pedersen, said she didn’t mind waiting nearly an extra week for the parcel of clothes she was carrying.

“It’s OK,” she said. “I can understand it because of the weather.”

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