Alaska Avalanches Cut Off Valdez; Road Access Blocked By Snow

Tuesday, 28 Jan 2014 06:28 AM

By Morgan Chilson

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Avalanches have closed the only road leading into the small coastal city of Valdez, Alaska, cutting off the 4,000 residents from the rest of the state.

Avalanches in Keystone Canyon closed the Richardson Highway, which a Valdez City news release said is expected to stay closed until at least Sunday and possibly longer.

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The Safeway grocery store in town is bringing food in by barge to supply the area.

“Safeway has confirmed that 6 trailers worth of supplies and food arrived this morning,” the release said. “If the road remains closed, Safeway will continue to barge food into Valdez as needed.”

One of the primary concerns was possible flooding and whether the area’s snow dam would hold, but the city release said “catastrophic failure of the snow dam is considered very unlikely.”

Aerial reconnaissance by helicopter is helping authorities to stay on top of the situation.

A voluntary evacuation advisory is in effect for a couple of subdivisions covering a 10-mile area, the city’s release said. People in that area should be prepared to evacuate immediately should sirens go off.

The Alaska Dispatch posted images taken by a crew flying over the area, showing where avalanches that began last Thursday created an ice dam.

The Dispatch said truck driver Kris Fagerberg was delivering fuel and got caught between two avalanches and was trapped on the road for a time. He was driving along when one avalanche buried the road about 150 feet in front of his truck, Fagerberg told the Dispatch.

He stopped and put cones around the truck, which was carrying about 10,000 gallons of fuel, and the a second slide occurred behind him, trapping him, Fagerberg told the Dispatch.

A Department of Transportation crew climbed the avalanche and got Fagerberg out, the Dispatch said. It wasn’t until he talked to the crews about the severity of the situation that the truck driver realized how lucky he’d been.

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