Alaska highway officials say the lake behind the "Damalanche" that has cut Valdez off from the state's road system since last week has drained and the area should soon be safe enough for crews to begin removing a huge avalanche debris field.
Alaska Department of Transportation workers finished clearing an avalanche on the north end of the Richardson Highway closure, at around Mile 39, on Wednesday.
The road remains closed from Mile 12 to 18, where a massive slide blocked the highway and dammed the Lowe River, creating a large lake that has now apparently drained.
"It looks like the water is back within its normal river channel," said DOT maintenance engineer Jason Sakalaskas.
Highway officials were for the first time removing debris from the roadway to the north side of the avalanche and shrunken lake on Thursday, he said. But they weren't climbing the 100-foot-high avalanche field just yet.
While avalanche danger in the area has decreased, Sakalaskas said, it's still not safe enough to send in workers in bulldozers and excavators to remove snow.
But if clear, cool weather continues, that work could begin as early as Friday, he said.
The plan: Make a path to the top of the jagged, crunchy avalanche field and haul away blocks of ice-glazed snow with excavators, one chunk at a time, according to Sakalaskas.
Officials plan to push most of the snow to the sides of the highway and then truck away the rest.
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS