A severe storm caused closures and disruptions throughout Juneau on Monday, as well as significant impacts elsewhere in Southeast Alaska — including a major landslide in Wrangell that hit three homes and killed at least one person, with others believed to be missing, according to officials.
The Wrangell landslide occurred at 8:51 p.m. Monday at mile 11 on Zimovia Highway, according to a press release issued at 9 a.m. Tuesday by the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
“A preliminary survey determined that three single-family residences were directly in the path of the landslide,” the release states. “The first responders started a hasty search to look for survivors. The body of one deceased individual was located during the hasty search. Multiple individuals are believed to have been within the slide area when the landslide occurred and are believed to be missing.”
The Alaska State Troopers have assumed command of the search and rescue effort, according to the release. Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a verbal disaster declaration for Wrangell on Tuesday morning.
Storm less severe than forecast for most of Juneau
Most of Juneau received far less than the possible 14 inches of snow forecast between 6 a.m. Monday and 6 a.m. Tuesday, with two inches reported at Juneau International Airport and the Juneau-Douglas Treatment Plant, said Kimberly Vaughan, a forecaster for the National Weather Service Juneau.
The base at Eaglecrest Ski Area got 3.3 inches and the weather service’s office on Back Loop Road 4.1 inches. But snowfall was far heavier out the road, with a spotter reporting 15 inches at Tee Harbor.
“A lot of the snowfall, and whether or not it accumulates, has a lot to do with the temperature,” she said. “So downtown you have the stronger winds and warmer temperatures. And out the road typically is a heavier snowfall area, it’s colder and usually a lot less wind is happening out there.”
Winds were particularly strong in downtown Juneau and Douglas, with gusts up to 61 miles per hour reported at the AJ Dock, Vaughan said.
Schools, government offices and facilities, and some businesses were closed for some or all of Monday. There were also several power outages that mostly were brief, but the most significant of them knocked out power overnight at Douglas Harbor, affecting liveaboard residents and others with vessels there.
A notice posted on the Juneau Facebook page Monday evening stating the outage could not be fixed until Tuesday because “the main breaker is tripped and will not reset” resulted in some angry replies from people concerned about being left in the dark and cold. But Harbormaster Matthew Creswell, in a reply, stated it was too dangerous to go out in the storm Monday night to attempt repairs.
“As the Harbormaster, I am responsible for the safety of my crew and others,” he wrote. “I made the determination that it is not safe to be working on an electrical issue in the dark, 60-knot winds and over the water. Conditions are forecast to improve by tomorrow morning. Getting the power restored is our top priority right now. Thank you for understanding.”
The forecast for the coming days is for some wet weather, but relatively mild conditions Wednesday and Thursday before the next storm arrives, Vaughan said.
“We’re going to get a little bit of — not dry break — but dryer,” she said.
Landslide destroys homes in Wrangell, record rain elsewhere in Southeast
In Wrangell, where more than three inches of rain fell during a 24-hour period ending Tuesday morning, conditions in the landslide area are considered highly unstable with more slides possible, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
“The slide is estimated to be 450 feet wide where it crossed the roadway, with a significant debris field,” notice published by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities at midday Tuesday notes. “The slide remained active throughout the night, and the road remains closed.”
Residents living up to five miles away reported hearing it, according to KSTK public radio in Wrangell.
The Department of Public Safety’s press release states “additional ground search efforts on the slide have been paused until the slide can be assessed for safety by a geologist.”
“There is a risk of additional landslides in the area, which necessitates this assessment,” the release notes. “Crews may use aerial search platforms such as planes, helicopters, and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) drones in search efforts today until the ground search can be resumed. Officials are working on bringing a Southeast Alaska-based geologist into Wrangell today to conduct the assessment. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is bringing in additional personnel and UAS drone equipment from DOT and AST this morning on a chartered aircraft from Juneau.”
The disaster declaration by Dunleavy will “support ongoing emergency response, mass care, and disaster recovery efforts,” according to a statement issued by his office Tuesday afternoon.
“The disaster declaration has activated the state’s Individual and Public Assistance programs,” the statement notes. “The State Individual Assistance program helps individuals and families with damage to their homes and property and provides temporary housing for those who cannot return to their homes. The public assistance programs fund emergency response efforts and repair of critical infrastructure damaged by the disaster event. The governor’s declaration can also waive permitting requirements that could impede response or emergency protective work.”
A similar declaration was issued for Juneau after the record flooding from Suicide Basin on Aug. 5 destroyed or damaged dozens of homes along the Mendenhall River.
The Wrangell landslide made Zimovia Highway impassable, and cut off access and power to approximately 75 homes, according to the governor’s office. Boats are transporting residents from the cut-off area to the unaffected part of town.
Elsewhere in Southeast Alaska, record rainfall was reported in some communities. Vaughan said Petersburg received 4.13 inches during a 24-hour period, nearly double the previous record. Craig also reported a record 2.67 inches, although Vaughan said historical records there are less complete.
Winds were also especially strong in some exposed areas, with NWS Juneau reporting an unofficial observation of a 103-mph gust Monday at Rocky Island, located at the junction of Chatham, Icy Strait and Lynn Canal.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.