A landslide blocks Sitka’s Halibut Point Road on Monday. No one was injured in the slide, the city’s worst in two years, and one home suffered superficial damage. ^ Roberta White | Sitka Fire Department

Boats defeat landslide

No one was injured and no homes were significantly damaged in a major landslide Monday in Sitka.

The trouble was with the ferry.

About 12:30 p.m. Monday, a piece of hillside about 125 feet wide and 5-10 feet high tackled Sitka’s Halibut Point Road, is the only route to Sitka’s cruise ship dock and ferry terminal.

According to the National Weather Service, the slide came amid 2.77 inches of rain Monday, the most ever recorded on Labor Day at Sitka’s airport.

The slide carried trees, mud and a fair bit of debris onto the road in the worst disaster since a 2015 slide killed three people. A guardrail stopped the debris from carrying onward into a pair of downhill homes.

“All in all, if it had to happen, it happened at the right time and right place,” Sitka Fire Chief Dave Miller said.

Monday’s slide came just a few hours before the ferry Fairweather was scheduled to sail for Juneau. Labor Day weekend was the weekend of the annual Mudball softball tournament, and plenty of Juneau residents were in town for the event. A cruise ship was in town too, and hundreds of passengers were enjoying tours on the water or by bus.

While the slide missed all the drivers on the road, it left ferry and cruise ship passengers with no way to get to their boats. They couldn’t cross the slide zone on foot, since no one knew whether another slide might follow.

“There was no way to get those people that 150 feet across the slide with their luggage and everything else,” Miller said.

Enter Allen Marine.

“Our boats were, a couple of them were out on tours,” said Jamey Cagle, senior vice president for Allen Marine.

When the first arrived at the dock and learned what had happened, it unloaded its passengers and started a ferry service to get around the landslide.

“We knew we had a couple hundred people approximately, that needed to be moved,” Cagle said by phone.

The passengers mustered at Sitka’s Centennial Hall with help from Alaska Coach Tours. Allen Marine then transported them, boatload by boatload, from a downtown pier to another one near the cruise ship and ferry terminal. ACT provided bus transportation on the other side of the slide.

“We just responded and kept coordinating,” Cagle said.

“As far as these kinds of things, it’s different, but we’ve participated in a few different incidents,” he said.

Back in 2004, for example, the ferry LeConte ran aground while on a run from Angoon to Sitka. Two Allen Marine catamarans pulled passengers off that ship.

On Monday, Allen Marine hauled ferry passengers, their luggage, and a few pets to make the Fairweather sailing, which was postponed because of the emergency.

Allen Marine couldn’t accommodate the cars scheduled to sail on the ferry, so many travelers simply parked their cars and left their keys with friends in Sitka or others in town. The slide was cleared by 10 p.m. Monday.

On Tuesday, the Alaska Marine Highway System scheduled a second Fairweather sailing specifically to pick up the abandoned autos. That ferry was scheduled to arrive back in Juneau about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Miller said the disaster had two lessons. The first is to be prepared for disasters, to have a plan and an emergency bag ready to go. The second is that Alaskans are ready to help.

“It’s Alaska. You do what you need to do to make it happen, and they were willing to do it,” he said of Sitkans.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story contained a quote incorrectly attributed to an Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman. That quote has been removed.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


A landslide blocks Sitka’s Halibut Point Road on Monday. No one was injured in the slide, the city’s worst in two years, and one home suffered superficial damage. ^ Roberta White | Sitka Fire Department

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