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Morning snowfall sends vehicles sliding, crashing in Anchorage, Mat-Su

Zaz Hollander,Devin Kelly
Snow flies in Anchorage on Wednesday morning, March 5, 2014. A pedestrian passes the large murals outside the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature on North Bragaw Street.
Marc Lester
Snow greets motorists on Benson Boulevard Wednesday morning, March 5, 2014, in Midtown.
Erik Hill

Update, 4:15 p.m.:
With snow swirling over the Anchorage Bowl Wednesday, police said they've seen, on average, about one crash every 10 minutes since 6 a.m.

The accident tally hit 104 by 3:30 p.m., with seven crashes resulting in non-life threatening injuries and 34 vehicles in distress, said Jennifer Castro, police spokeswoman.

"From 7:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. we were having double digit accidents each hour," Castro said in an email. "From 11 a.m. to now we are back down in the single digits for accidents each hour."

To compare: Police responded to 18 accidents yesterday, a less-snowy Tuesday, and 18 vehicles in distress.

In Wasilla, crashes partially shut down Parks Highway twice and vehicles knocked over at least two light poles.

The amount of snowfall Wednesday afternoon varied across the city, said Michael Kutz, a technician with the National Weather Service.

At the weather service office, near the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, 2.4 inches fell since 5 a.m., he said.

Eastern portions of Anchorage saw more, between four and six inches of snow, he said. "And up into Eagle River, a little bit more."

Up in the Talkeetna area, snowfall hit the 17-inch mark, he said.

Forecasters said snow showers, tapering off to flurries will continue overnight and into midday Thursday, amounting to up to an inch of accumulation.

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A fresh cover of snow combined with poor visibility on Anchorage and Mat-Su roads led to a string of crashes during the morning commute Wednesday.

As much as 6 inches of snow dropped onto Anchorage, Eagle River and the Wasilla area Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Through late morning, Anchorage police responded to at least 63 accidents, five with injuries, and 29 vehicle-in-distress calls. At least two people were taken to the hospital with what appeared to be non-life-threatening injuries, said APD spokeswoman Jennifer Castro.

"We are seeing a lot of snow covering ice, people having trouble stopping, turning," Castro said.

Starting around 5 a.m. and through the morning, reports of accidents and distressed vehicles spanned all of Anchorage, from Huffman Road on the South to Airport Heights in East Anchorage to Minnesota Drive in the west, Castro said: "It's literally all over the place."

She urged drivers to go slow and turn headlights on.

Beyond the Knik River Bridge, Alaska State Troopers and the Wasilla Police Department responded to 10 crashes, two of which involved injuries, between 6 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., said Beth Ipsen, troopers spokeswoman. Five vehicles were reported to be in a ditch or stranded.

Twin accidents on each side of the Glenn Highway near the Knik River Bridge snarled traffic, and one resulted in minor injuries, Ipsen said. There were also minor injuries in a crash at the Parks Highway and the Palmer-Wasilla Highway in front of the Wasilla Police Department, Ipsen said.

Around 10:30 a.m., a three-vehicle crash on the Parks Highway at Knik Goose Bay Road in Wasilla closed part of the highway, a Wasilla police dispatcher said.

Earlier, a vehicle also knocked over a light pole along the Parks Highway in Wasilla. The driver was not injured.

Ipsen said troopers responding to multiple accidents called the trip into Anchorage "interesting" and urged drivers to slow down. She also asked that drivers turn headlights on and be on the lookout for emergency response vehicles.

Reports of Mat-Su accidents starting coming in at about 7:30 a.m., according to Clint Vardeman, deputy emergency services director for the Mat-Su Borough. It was still snowing heavily in the Valley as the reports came in.

People tracking accidents on the Mat-Su Valley News Facebook page reported dozens of vehicles in ditches between Wasilla and Anchorage.

The Alaska Department of Transportation is warning of difficult driving conditions from Wasilla to Talkeetna.

Snow fell steadily through the morning throughout Southcentral Alaska, with the snow load increasing further north. Heavier snowfall was being reported in the Susitna Valley, with about 12.5 inches of new snow reported in Skwentna.

Moving north, spotters in Willow reported between 8 and 10 inches, and between 12.5 and 15.5 inches around Trapper Creek and Talkeetna.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.

 


By ZAZ HOLLANDER and DEVIN KELLY
zhollander@adn.com