Emily Weir’s car fell into chasm washed away on John Street in Douglas the evening of Oct. 5, 2015. Heavy rains in Juneau washed out roads, caused mudslides and damaged houses. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Emily Weir’s car fell into chasm washed away on John Street in Douglas the evening of Oct. 5, 2015. Heavy rains in Juneau washed out roads, caused mudslides and damaged houses. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Update: Repairs underway on roads damage by mudslides

Crews are working to clear roads and repair damage

Repairs have begun on some of the damage caused by rain over the weekend, but the extent of the damage is not yet fully known.

Heavy rain washed out ditches and roads at John Street and Peters Lane in Douglas, caused mudslides in Thane, and flooded the mechanical room for the whale statue in Mayor Bill Overstreet Park.

City Manager Rorie Watt said in a phone call Monday morning that erosion was under control and that contractors had been hired to repair a chasm which opened beneath an apartment building parking lot on John Street in Douglas.

Watt said that Admiralty Construction, the firm that has been working on water main repair on the Douglas Highway, was hired to make the repairs to John Street.

“They’re in the neighborhood and it’s kind of an emergency repair,” Watt said.

Admiralty Construction could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Major damage was done by the flooding of the whale statue’s mechanical room. Watt said the room had been flooded with a combination of sewage and storm water and that city crews were “trying to figure out next steps.”

Watt said the damage was most likely to cost several hundred thousand dollars to repair.

A press release Sunday from the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said crews were working to clear a landslide on Thane Road and that travel was not advised. The release said that the road is limited to local traffic only at this time.

Flume Trail

Debbie Driscoll, vice president and director of consumer affairs at Alaska Electric Light and Power, said that mudslides had damaged the Gold Creek Flume Trail. The trail had been scheduled to be opened to the public Monday.

“We don’t know the extent of the damage yet because it’s still buried,” Driscoll told the Empire by phone Monday.

Driscoll said that AEL&P crews were still assessing the damage but estimated repairs would take at least four weeks. It was not yet clear if the trail would open at that time as AEL&P would have to makes the repairs and then ensure the stability of the hillside.

“I imagine that many of the (trail’s) users are disappointed,” Driscoll said. “So are we.”

Streets and houses

No bus routes have been affected by the damage, according to Henry Niehaus, operations supervisor at Capital City Transit.

“It started about midnight,” said Ed Foster, superintendent of the City and Borough of Juneau’s Streets, Fleet Maintenance and Transit department, on Sunday. “We got drainage systems we were fighting all night that we gotta go take care of.”

The parking lot in front of the apartments on John Street was eroded from beneath, leaving a chasm three meters wide and two deep at some points. The washout swallowed Emily Weir’s car, leaving it balanced on the edge.

“I left the house at 8 and got back at 1, and it was like this,” Weir said. “I was thankful none of the tires popped.”

Heavy rains in Douglas washed out roads and damaged houses and vehicles the weekend of Oct. 6, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Heavy rains in Douglas washed out roads and damaged houses and vehicles the weekend of Oct. 6, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

A tow truck from Capital Towing was able to get Weir’s car out, but others had problems less easily solved. Other vehicles were trapped on the other side of the ditch from the road. Homes were flooded with mud and debris that was washed out from the hills above them, leaving some houses full of filth.

“My girlfriend pulled up at 1 a.m. and had to take her socks and shoes off and roll her pants up to her knees because the water was so high,” said Philip England, who lives off of Peters Lane. “She pulled up 10 minutes before the road gave way. Somebody could have died.”

A Department of Transportation employee clears debris off Douglas Highway after heavy rains in Juneau washed out roads, caused mudslides, and damaged houses and vehicles, Oct. 6, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

A Department of Transportation employee clears debris off Douglas Highway after heavy rains in Juneau washed out roads, caused mudslides, and damaged houses and vehicles, Oct. 6, 2019. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Porches, stairways and oil tanks were washed out, leaving debris strewn across the roads and Douglas Highway. Workers from the Department of Transportation were seen Sunday using a front-end loader to clear rocks and mud off the highway.

Foster said that the city will be getting contractors to fill in the chasm left on John Street enough that people are able to drive off their marooned cars tomorrow. He’s not sure how long repairs will take or how much they’ll cost.

“We’re gonna have to create a new basin to catch things before it hits that culvert,” Foster said. “It’s hard to prevent. You get enough material coming down these hills and something’s getting plugged up.”

Systems overwhelmed

According to David Levin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, about five inches of rain fell between Friday and Sunday afternoon. There was less precipitation in the Mendenhall Valley and more rainfall at some higher elevations, reaching nearly 1o inches at some locations.

Totals for weekend rain are posted at the National Weather Service website. South Douglas received roughly 7.6 inches of rain in the past 48 hours according to that data. Downtown Juneau got almost five inches but the Mendengall Valley got only 2.5 inches of rain, according to NWS data.

The Snettisham power house south of Juneau received 11 inches of rain over the weekend.

Joel Curtis at the NWS told the Empire on Monday the weekend’s rainfall was a 25-year recurrent event, meaning the amount of precipitation was only expected once every 25 years.

“This is something you might expect once every 25 years,” Curtis said. “Clearly our systems were overwhelmed.”

Curtis said local streams and culverts received more water than they usually handle. The most rain came Saturday night, he said.

“It’s almost like Mother Nature is making up for the drought we had,” Curtis said.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or mlockett@juneauempire.com. Reporter Peter Segall also contributed reporting to this report.


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