It was 20 years ago Tuesday, just after midnight in the calm waters of Prince William Sound, an oil tanker plowed over charted rocks known as Bligh Reef.
The impact did horrible damage, ripping open cargo tanks down nearly the entire length of the 987-foot ship. No one died, yet the wreck of the Exxon Valdez on March 24, 1989, is one of the world's worst disasters, an environmental calamity that is still rippling through the lives of many Alaskans.
Nearly 11 million gallons of oil would drift as far as 470 miles, fouling beaches and fatally bathing scores of sea otters, birds and other wildlife. A slow and ill-equipped cleanup was largely ineffective, though so epic it buoyed the entire Alaska economy. Even now, residual oil can be found in sediment along Prince William Sound beaches. The question today is, could it happen again?
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