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Southeast Alaska pummeled by storm, mudslides, power outages

Alex DeMarban
A mudslide on Prince of Wales Island stretches across the Klawock-Hollis Highway on Jan. 14, 2014. No one was injured in the slide. Alaska State Troopers photo

A punishing winter storm has touched off mudslides and flooding in parts of Southeast Alaska, and caught the attention of emergency officials who have asked residents of Prince of Wales Island to stay home if possible and use extreme caution if they cannot. 

“It is blowing like crazy, with heavy, heavy rainfall,” said John Skan, tribal administrator in the village of Klawock, a community of 800 not far from where landslides have cut off roads to the north and east of the island.

No injuries have been reported in the village some 200 miles south of Juneau. “Everyone is standing by in case anyone needs help,” said Skan.

Alaska State Troopers issued a report on Tuesday afternoon saying Prince of Wales Island -- the nation’s fourth-largest island and home to the small communities of Klawock, Craig, Hydaburg and others -- was experiencing island-wide flooding with landslides.

Skan said he’d heard of a few landslides on the island, including one some 30 miles to the north of Klawock, where roadwork had been occurring.

Troopers reported Tuesday that the “Klawock Hollis Highway at Harris River Road is blocked by a landslide and power lines are down. Coffman Cove Road between miles 22 and 23 is also closed due to a landslide. 32 mile Whale Pass Road is washed out.”

Troopers posted a photo on Facebook of the landslide on Klawock Hollis Highway showing a huge pile of shredded evergreen trees that had tumbled off a hillside and stretched across the road. No one was hurt in the slide, the post said.

“This storm came in unannounced,” Skan said. “And it’s still going real strong. I’m looking out my window out at the bay and it’s calmed down somewhat, but it’s still blowing like 25, 30 mph (steady).”

“It’s our understanding that the power outage was caused by the weather,” he said. “We don’t want folks sitting in dark and not having facilities.” 

David Lee, a specialist with Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said mudslides were also reportedly a problem in Sitka, a community of 9,000 on Baranof Island northwest of Klawock.  

Elsewhere, a prolonged power outage that began Tuesday morning also forced the state to close its executive branch offices in Ketchikan, which included at least the Department of Transportation building that houses 94 employees, said Andy Mills, a spokesperson for the Department of Administration.

Southeast Alaska from Sitka to the Canadian border has been placed under a flood warning until 6 p.m. Tuesday, said Kimberly Vaughan, a National Weather Service forecaster in Juneau.

Causing the damage is the frontal band of a storm that moved in from the tropics and is churning northeast into Canada. The storm’s low is centered over Anchorage but the Southcentral region is drawing cool air from the Interior so it’s not experiencing the warmth seen in Southeast, said Vaughan.

“The source region is down in the tropics, but it’s not a tropical storm,” she said.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com