Avalanche engulfs Richardson Highway
VALDEZ – It could be more than a week before the Alaska Department of Transportation is able to clear an avalanche outside Valdez.
It’s an impressive sight: tons of snow engulfing the Richardson Highway, the only road into the Southcentral Alaska community of nearly 4,000 people.
The transportation department contracted with Alpine Air Alaska to drop more than 300 pounds of explosives to secure the area.
“The blasting would be to, everything up above is still very unstable so they try to trigger the avalanches in order to make it a stable environment to where they can clean this up,” explained Andy Wallace, the chief pilot for Alpine Air Alaska.
Right now the biggest concern isn’t the snow on the road, but the water backing up behind it which could potentially create a flash flood. The city issued a voluntary evacuation order for residents closest to the slide.
“We have an emergency alert system out there. There’s a siren. We put them on notice that if they hear that siren they need to be prepared to leave as soon as possible,” said Valdez City Manager John Hozey.
Valdez will be cut off from the road system for at least a week. Hozey said right now, he’s not worried.
“We’ve checked to make sure we have plenty of fuel oil, plenty of gasoline. The food store, Safeway is already moved to bring alternate measures in, they’re bringing the food in by barge,” Hozey said. “The hospital has all the staff and personnel they need.”
The avalanche happened in Snow Slide Gulch, which, like its name suggests, is prone to slides. Residents said they’ve never seen it this bad, though, and there’s really only one word to describe it.
“Wow,” said Robert Gutierrez, who’s lived in Valdez since 1975. “It’s crazy. That avalanche chute comes down every year, but not like that. ”
City officials will take a helicopter tour of the area Monday to get a better idea of the damage. The city is working with DOT to get the snow cleared but Hozey said it will likely be quite a while.