Alaska landslide damages 3 homes in Juneau, ‘squishes’ pickup truck

A tree and landslide debris lie across Gastineau Avenue after falling between two homes and crushing a vehicle in downtown Juneau, Alaska, Tuesday. Firefighters and police on Monday evening closed the street to traffic and evacuated nearby homes. (Clarise Larson/The Juneau Empire via AP)

A landslide triggered by record rainfall significantly damaged three homes, prompted the evacuation of about a dozen residents and caused power outages in downtown Juneau, Alaska’s capital city.

Geological assessment teams determined Tuesday that favourable weather has returned the threat level to pre-slide levels. The city’s public works department was preparing to begin removing debris, city spokesperson Meredith Thatcher said.

Of the three homes, one was completely destroyed as it came down the mountain and slammed into a second home, which was significantly damaged but remains standing, she said. The extent of damage to the third home was not yet known.

Residents will be allowed to return to their homes at their own discretion. “If you feel comfortable going home, you can go home,” Thatcher said.

Assistant Fire Chief Sam Russell and other officials talk in the rain outside of the Juneau Public Library in Juneau, Alaska, Monday following a landslide. (Clarise Larson/The Juneau Empire via AP)

The local power company was expected to restore service after the debris has been removed to the point where crews need to work.

Damage from the Monday evening landslide was confined to the one residential street above the downtown business district in the southeast Alaska mountain community of about 32,000 residents. There were no reported injuries, city officials said.

‘My truck is squished’

Evan Hartung was eating dinner in his home when he heard a rumbling sound over the TV, he told the Juneau Empire.

He just managed to escape the house before the evergreen tree came swooshing down onto the stairs along the outside of his home, damaging them.

It then knocked his pickup on its side before coming to rest, partially on top of the vehicle.

“My truck is squished,” he said.

Sarah Wallace and her partner live next door to Hartung. They also heard the noise and looked out their window to see Hartung “running outside without any shoes,” she told the Empire. That prompted them to also quickly exit their home.

About a dozen people — either those whose homes were damaged or others who decided to self-evacuate — stayed at a shelter that was set up by the American Red Cross at a downtown fire station, Thatcher told The Associated Press.

Highest daily rainfall in 30 years

Residents in Juneau, located in the Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest, are accustomed to a persistent light rain falling, but not deluges like they experienced Monday.

“We are a rain forest, so we’re supposed to get rain,” said National Weather Service forecaster Kimberly Vaughan in Juneau.

“These were record rainfall amounts and some of them broke the previous records by nearly 2 inches.”

Cruise ships near downtown Juneau, Alaska, in May 2019, in this view from from Mount Juneau. Alaska’s capital is nestled against the Gastineau Channel in the Alaska panhandle. (Becky Bohrer/Associated Press)

Lena Point, located about 24 kilometres northwest of downtown Juneau, recorded 7.72  centimetres of rain, the highest daily amount in about 30 years of record keeping there.

The previous record for precipitation in a 24-hour period was 2.90 centimetres in 2017.

Other daily rainfall records were recorded at the Juneau weather forecast office, with 6.58 centimetres beating the previous record of 2.84 centimetres in 2009, and 5.64 centimetres at the airport, surpassing the record of 5.13 centimetres set in 1936.

The rains also caused the Mendenhall River to rise in Juneau, prompting some flooding advisories.

Flood warning in Skagway

In Skagway, about 160.93 kilometres north of Juneau, there’s a flood warning in effect for the Taiya River. The river was at 5.14 metres early Tuesday, just above flooding stage but was expected to drop throughout the day.

Persistent rain has caused some flooding and led officials to close a campground. There also have been ongoing landslides since one closed the cruise ship dock last summer.

A large slide over the weekend dropped several thousand cubic yards of debris adjacent to that dock, city manager Brad Ryan said.

However, there’s been no reports of homes damaged or people injured.

“I think we’re feeling like we’ve weathered it pretty good,” he said.

Landslides are common in Alaska. Last May, a slide brought down dozens of full-grown evergreen trees and debris, temporarily closing a road in the coastal community of Seward.

In 2020, two people were killed in the southeast Alaska community of Haines when a slide as wide as two football fields slammed into a neighborhood.

The only route through Denali National Park and Preserve is closed and expected to remain so through 2024 after the Pretty Rocks landslide covered 91 meters of the road. Officials are proposing construction of a 121.9-metre bridge spanning the landslide area.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Yukon’s North Klondike Highway to temporarily remain single lane for safety reasons, CBC News

United States: Repair work begins in some Alaska towns slammed by storm, The Associated Press

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