Avalanche buries, closes part of Alaska highway

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Valdez, AK, United States (4E) – A portion of an Alaska highway buried by avalanches on Friday and Saturday will be closed for at least a week, according to officials of the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT).

The portion between Richardson Highway’s Mile 12, out of Valdez, and Mile 64, north of Thompson Pass remained closed on Monday, a DOT statement said.

The mix of large and small avalanches–natural and blast-triggered—also crossed the Lowe River at Keystone Canyon forming a dam and flooding the valley upstream. About 100 residents of Alpine Woods subdivision were asked to voluntary evacuate, said Sheri Pierce, public information officer for city of Valdez.

The DOT said the dammed water is receding, but remains dangerous for crews to begin clearing the road section buried under 30 feet of snow. The largest avalanche, which was 60 to 70 feet high and between 900 to 1,500 feet long, buried an area along the 368-mile-long road, according to DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow.

No one was hurt in the avalanches. A fuel truck en route from Valdez to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson outside of Anchorage was trapped between two avalanches for about 90 minutes on Friday until he was rescued by a DOT crew.

With the only road into Valdez closed, barges are being used to deliver food to stranded residents of the port city with a population of about 4,000.

“The airport and port facilities remain fully functional. The City of Valdez has confirmed that there is plenty of gasoline and heating fuel oil in town to serve local needs during an extended road closure,” Holly Wolgamott, deputy city clerk in Valdez, said on Monday, according to Adn.com.

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