Crews begin removing landslide debris in Alaska's capital

Landslide debris lies across Gastineau Avenue in downtown Juneau, Alaska, Tuesday, Sept. 28. 2022. A Monday evening landslide damaged three homes and led to at least a dozen people to seek housing vouchers from the Red Cross. Cleanup is expected to take multiple days, according to the City and Borough of Juneau. (Clarise Larson/Juneau Empire via AP)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Efforts began Wednesday to remove enough trees, rocks and dirt to fill half a football field that were deposited on a street in Alaska’s capital by a landslide.

The Monday evening slide began several hundred feet above Gastineau Avenue, just above Juneau’s business district. It came down the mountainside and slammed into one house, which propelled that home into another. A third home was also damaged.

“It came down a long ways and brought a lot of material, and now that material is quite deep,” Tom Mattice, Juneau’s emergency program manager, told the Juneau Empire.

He said the damage could have been much worse given the distance and momentum the debris had in coming down the mountain.

“The slide came down between the three houses and ended on the road, thank goodness there was a phone pole and a guard rail and a truck that blocked it from going down onto Franklin,” he said.

Franklin is the street below Gastineau in this mountain city.

The slide took out a power pole and a transmission line, which initially left about 5,000 customers without power, said Debbie Driscoll, vice president and director of consumer affairs for Alaska Electric Light and Power.

Most had power restored within an hour, but about 50 customers didn’t get power back until Tuesday because debris prevented crews from accessing the area.

Four homes still remain without power, she said. Two are damaged beyond the point of being able to restore power, and the other two had damage to meter bases that will require additional work.

It’s expected it will take several days to remove the landslide debris, and city officials have concerns about more storms moving into the area by week’s end.

“We’re doing our best to get the area open as quick and safely as possible,” Mattice said.

Record rains, including 3.04 inches (7.72 centimeters) at a recording station about 15 miles (24 kilometers) northwest of Juneau, preceded the landslide. That rainfall total beat the previous record in Juneau, located inside a rain forest, by about 2 inches (5.08 centimeters).

“We’re actually in a decent break right now which is going to help our rivers take a breath and get back to normal or below bank level,” said Nicole Ferrin, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Juneau.

The biggest mitigating factor for more landslides depends on the duration between storms and how wet the soil is, she said.