Ongoing rain continued to cause disruptions in Juneau as city schools announced they would remain closed Wednesday and multiple buildings suffered severe damage.
The roofs of two buildings in Juneau collapsed Tuesday amid continuing rain following heavy snow. No injuries were reported, according to the City and Borough of Juneau.
The properties are located in downtown Juneau on Willoughby Avenue and in Lemon Creek on Short Streets, respectively. In an interview, Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge said crews had responded to both collapses and ordered the utilities shut off to both locations.
“We’re just asking people to take care of their buildings and have a contingency plan in place for what you can do,” Etheridge said, speaking to the Empire outside the Willoughby Avenue building.
In a news release, CBJ said staff members are receiving numerous questions on whether current snow conditions warrant the removal of snow from roofs to avoid structural collapse but responsibility for snow removal is left to building owners, the city said in a news release. The city does provide an information sheet with guidance on snow removal, but due to the variable characteristics of each individual building, boroughwide declarations of snow hazards are not possible.
According to the CBJ assessor’s office, the building located at 535 Willoughby Avenue is owned by Juneau Business Center, LLC, and valued at just over $1 million. The Lemon Creek building, located at 5011 Short Street, is owned by Grant Properties, LLC, and valued at $2.2 million.
In a statement posted to social media, Barnacle Foods —which occupies a building on the same parcel as the collapsed Lemon Creek structure —said members of their team were safe.
Rain is set to continue through the weekend for the Juneau area, according to the National Weather Service, adding weight to accumulated snow and creating hazardous conditions for the city’s roads and buildings.
Meteorologist Grant Smith with the National Weather Service in Juneau told the Empire in a phone interview Tuesday rain is expected at least through Friday and potentially through the weekend.
“It looks like we’re going to stay in the rainy pattern for a while now,” Smith said.
Some parts of Juneau such as the Mendenhall Valley could see a mix of snow and rain, Smith said, but rain is expected to dominate the forecast. The rain follows heavy snowfall last week, prompting concerns about the structural integrity of roofs and creating icy conditions on roadways.
The city’s avalanche danger remains a concern, said City and Borough of Juneau Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice, but has slightly decreased as temperatures have warmed and precipitation was less than expected.
“Anytime you see rain on snow it’s never good,” Mattice said.
The combination of rain and snow was blocking some of the city’s storm drains, Mattice said, causing concerns about flooding on roadways and other areas as accumulated rainfall has nowhere to go. According to Mattice, city crews were working to keep storm drains open but staffing issues caused by COVID-19 and a general shortage of laborers were complicating the effort.
“It’s a constant battle,” Mattice said. “Not only have people been short-staffed in dealing with COVID and just not having enough laborers to get the jobs done, it’s definitely keeping people on their toes.”
Mattice asked residents to be mindful of where nearby storm drains are and to try to keep them clear. Etheridge told the Empire that blocked drainage on rooftops was leading to water accumulation that can lead to building collapse.
Juneau’s schools remained closed Tuesday out of concern for the structural integrity of roofs as accumulated snow was made heavier by the rain.
Juneau’s Fred Meyer store reopened Tuesday morning after being closed for two days as crews worked to remove snow from the building’s roof. Jeffery Temple, spokesperson for Kroger’s Fred Meyer division told the Empire in a phone interview Juneau’s store was closed out of an abundance of caution but after consultation with the company and third-party engineering consultants, it was reopened.
Juneau’s schools were closed Tuesday and would remain closed Wednesday, said Juneau School District chief of staff Kristin Bartlett in an email. In an email to families Tuesday afternoon, the district said after evaluating conditions at schools and in neighborhoods officials determined it was unsafe for students and staff to travel to and from school.
All classes, activities, RALLY and after-school programs are canceled, according to JSD, and there will be no distance delivery or online classes. Further updates will be posted on the district website.
“District staff are doing everything possible to prepare for reopening and remain hopeful that we can start back on Thursday,” JSD said. “Please use caution when walking and driving around the community.”
A burst pipe at Riverbend Elementary School caused significant flooding, Bartlett said, and that school would remain closed Wednesday. Families at Riverbend will be updated Wednesday with a plan for reopening, Bartlett said.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.