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Alaska’s Strangest Town
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Whittier, Alaska: The U.S. town where everyone lives under one roof

The only way to reach Whittier is by driving through a World War II rail tunnel. The drive through the single-lane tunnel can feel suffocating, but it's liberating for Whittier's residents, who arrange their lives by the tunnel's timetable -- cars can only cross once an hour in either direction, and if you're trying to get back to town after 10:30 p.m., you're out of luck. A common sight at the entrance to Whittier is of people who missed the last crossing sleeping in their cars.

View of Whittier from a ship

The thing is, Whittierites never have to take the tunnel if they don't want to, even though the tiny southwest Alaska town is severed from the outside world in so many ways. It snows 22 feet a year here, more than 1,000 times the normal national average.

The Alaskan Railway bringing a load of tourists to Whittier

Residents don't even have to leave the building they live in if they don't want to.

That's because Whittier, including its hospital, school and city government, functions within one self-sufficient structure: a Cold War behemoth that seems better suited to any city around the world.

The Begich Tower

The 14-story Begich Towers Incorporated, or BTI, is probably the last thing you'd expect to see in an outpost as remote as this. A former military base, it soars skyward, rudely interrupting the surrounding National Geographic landscape of glaciers and Prince William Sound. BTI withstands six months of rain every year, followed by six months of snow and howling winds.

Prince William Sound

Inside, BTI feels like any massive condo complex in a big city, except that when you step outside in the winter, there are few places to go and no one to see. Rush-hour commute in Whittier means a stop on every floor on the elevator. It means even when it’s freezing, city employees can go to work in sandals. To go to school, kids simply take the elevator to the basement and run down a bunker-like underground passage that connects BTI to the Whittier Community School.

The Whittier harbour

Only about 220 people live in Whittier year-round, working in commercial fishing, recreation and tourism or for the state ferry and railroad. And most of them have homes in the tower. You can walk in the corridors in your pyjamas, visit people at any hour – there’s even a convenience store on the first floor, as well as a garden and an indoor playground.

A truly self-sufficient building, where you don’t have to step outside to get things done!

(All images - credit: Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licence)

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2015-08-30 09:50:30
This is truly a strange place. It is like everything in one place.
2015-08-30 09:51:39
it is so convenient . I bet many people will like it there.
2015-09-03 09:06:00
The BTI is like a passageway to everywhere else in Whittier.

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