Cut off from road system, Valdez goes about 'business as normal'

Tegan Hanlon
Location: Valdez, Alaska, 01/24/14 Recent avalanche debris litters the mountains above Valdez on the morning of January 24, 2014 These slides occurred on Mile High Mountain to the north of the town. A High Avalanche Warning continues though today.
Photo courtesy of Matt Kinney / ADN reader submission
Location: Valdez, Alaska, 01/24/ Skies finally cleared in Valdez, AK on January 26, 2014 giving residents a full view of the major avalanches that occurred the previous day on Town Mountain.
Photo courtesy of Matt Kinney / ADN reader submission

Josh Miller, a teacher at Valdez High School, clipped his GoPro to the nose of a friend's helicopter Sunday. He wanted to see the avalanches that pounded the Richardson Highway, but couldn't reach the area on foot or by car.

"Well, this is obviously one of the most cataclysmic geological events and living in this area, you naturally want to be really alert of what goes on in this ecosystem," he said. "It's stunning."

Despite the avalanches, life went on Monday: Miller taught classes, Safeway employees restocked shelves and flights departed on schedule.

"It's pretty much business as normal," said Jon Anderson, terminal manager at North Pacific Fuel, a fuel-distributor in Valdez. "Our fuel stock is just fine and we have plenty so there's no reason for anybody to get concerned."

At the city's only grocery store, a Safeway, employees unpacked seven trailers of stock that arrived on a barge across Prince William Sound from Whittier early Monday morning. Trucks usually transport the groceries unless there's an emergency, said Matthew Ficek, store manager.

Ficek said he hasn't noticed a rush of residents in the store or much talk of panic.

"You know, our town is pretty familiar with these sorts of situations, so everyone is pretty supportive of each other," he said.

Ficek referred to a town where 325 inches of snow fall during a "normal" winter and where flooding and mudslides blocked Richardson Highway for 11 days in 2006.

Kelly Deaton, a local coffee shop owner, described customers' reactions to the highway closure as "kind of mellow."

She and her son were stopped about 12 miles out of Valdez around 7 a.m. Friday, she said. Trucks stalled in front of her and she could see the slide up ahead.

"It's massive," she said. "I've lived here 20 years and I've never seen anything up close and personal like that."

Deaton turned around, bought 10 gallons of milk for the shop and booked a Friday night flight so her son could take the SAT in Anchorage on time.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at or 257-4589.