The City and Borough of Juneau on Tuesday began the multi-day process of cleaning up after a Monday night landslide that damaged homes and prompted evacuations in the area of Gastineau Avenue.
The landslide damaged three homes, according to the city, and displaced residents, but there were no injuries reported in connection to the landslide.
According to public information officer Meredith Thatcher, site crews had completed a preliminary assessment of the Gastineau landslide area on Tuesday and are allowing for limited residential access within the area. The city is asking for anyone without essential need to still avoid the area surrounding Gastineau Avenue to allow for cleanup crews to work as quickly as possible.
The cleanup process is expected to take multiple days, according to the city, and residents are asked to move all vehicles parked within a block of 187 Gastineau Ave. Vehicles in the area will be towed to Zach Gordon Youth Center; 396 Whittier St. Vehicle owners will not be charged and will be able to pick up their vehicles at their convenience.
Thatcher said at this time it’s hard to know the exact number of people displaced due to damage or people who lived in the immediate area and evacuated in accordance with the voluntary evacuation request. Thatcher added that a timeline for full power being restored to the area will follow once cleanup operations are further underway.
“Our emergency shelter is open to both. We didn’t distinguish between the two, so we don’t at this time have hard numbers on who is displaced because of damage, who evacuated, who came to the shelter, or who stayed with a friend or family,” Thatcher said.
CBJ emergency program manager Tom Mattice said that the damage, while considerable, could have been much worse given the distance and momentum at which the debris traveled down the side of the mountain.
“The debris pile would fill about half of a football field and yet the slide itself started hundreds of feet up the mountain, you can’t even see it when you look up to the ridge on the mountain, so it came down a long ways and brought a lot of material, and now that material is quite deep,” Mattice said. “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. It came from several hundred feet from up on the mountain, had quite a bit of momentum.”
He said work continues near the site of the slide.
“We’re confirming safety and double checking for hazards in the upper areas and then we’re getting a plan together to get it all cleaned up,” Mattice said. “We’ve got power back on to the majority of the area with the exception of about four or five homes.”
Mattice added that as crews are working as quickly as possible to restore road access before more storms move in, he will continue to take phone calls from anyone needing assistance as cleanup efforts proceed.
“A lot of the calls have been from people who weren’t able to get to their homes or didn’t have power or some of those people had motor abilities issues, whether it was needing wheelchair access or drugs from the pharmacist or whatever. So, we’re working through those things on a case-by-case basis. We evacuated a few people last night, and tonight will be a much smaller evacuation area because we have power back on throughout the region now. We still have very limited road access, but people in the non-affected area can walk up and down to their property,” Mattice said. “We’re doing our best to get the area open as quick and safely as possible; we have another series of storms coming and as rain escalates over the new few days we will have potential for shutdowns in our operation to maintain safety, but we’re going to continue to push forward the best we can to get as much opened and cleaned up as quickly as possible.”
Evan Hartung is among the residents affected by the landslide.
Hartung told the Empire he was eating dinner and watching television at the house he rents at 175 Gastineau Ave. — among the closest homes to the downed tree — when he heard a rumbling sound outside of the house. But while he and — at first glance — the home appeared to avoid major damage, it knocked a telephone pole halfway over and caused other wreckage.
“My truck is squished,” Hartung said.
Sarah Wallace said she and her partner were at home next door when she heard the noise, looked out and saw Hartung making his escape.
“When we saw him out the window, he was running outside without any shoes,” Wallace said, prompting her and her partner to get outside immediately, as well.
Red Cross regional communications director Taylar Sausen said that the Red Cross was able to help a dozen people at an evacuation center.
“We had 12 people at the evacuation center that were provided with housing vouchers. Our disaster program manager that was monitoring and facilitating the situation said that she knew of at least four other homes that were evacuated that went to friends or family and that did come to the evacuation center,” Sausen said.
Sausen said that while people were grateful to have a place to evacuate to, everyone is understandably wondering when they’ll be able to return home and that the emergency emphasizes the importance of preparedness as weather-related disasters are unpredictable.
“Just an overall sense of preparedness, folks can download our emergency app to be notified of open shelters and get safety tips on how to prep for emergencies like that,” Sausen said. “You never know when things like this will happen, so it’s important to have an emergency kit ready to go.”
Thatcher echoed Sausen’s statements about safety and said that it’s important for people to remain mindful of continuing heavy rainfall in the subsequent days to come.
“We anticipate more rain in the next several days, so it’s important for folks to stay alert and to pay attention to changing weather conditions and be on the lookout in case there are any emergency notifications just to be as safe as possible,” Thatcher said.
According to Nicole Ferrin, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Juneau, the next major rainstorm on the horizon will come by the end of this week.
“The 24-hour rainfall was around 2 inches in the Juneau vicinity during Monday. 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,” Ferrin said. “We’re not really seeing much in the way of precipitation for the rest of Tuesday or Wednesday other than maybe a few isolated showers here and there. The next front on the horizon is looking to be Thursday and Friday with another potentially stronger system coming up on Saturday.”
Ferrin said that the biggest mitigating factor for additional landslides will depend on the duration between storm systems, because how wet the soil remains can be a large factor. Ferrin added that for anyone concerned about the potential for more slides, they can be proactive by observing the grounds around their properties.
“For the Saturday system, I think for anyone that has concerns about slides, they should monitor the area around their home if you live in hilly area, look for the water that’s running down through hillsides where it doesn’t usually with normal rain, that can be one of the antecedent conditions or something to keep an eye on,” Ferrin said. “People should keep an eye on any statements or anything we issue over the next few days as we get closer to Saturday, it’s still five days away and a lot could change between now and then.”