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Mudslides near Denali close park road, delay trains

Polychrome Pass, Denali National Park. (Photo by Victoria Petersen)

A large mudslide briefly closed the road into Denali National Park and Preserve Sunday as crews worked to clear the debris near Polychrome Pass, park officials say.

Rocks on the Alaska Railroad tracks in the area between Healy and the park also caused two trains to be delayed and passengers rerouted onto motor coaches between noon and 5 p.m., a railroad spokesman said.

The two slides were in different locations.

Denali park staff closed the road to all traffic just west of Polychrome Pass due to the slide that covered the area in debris flow, the park said. The slide was reported just before 2 p.m. Sunday and cleared in less than an hour. The park experienced two smaller slides on Saturday.

The area was near a slow-moving slide that’s being tracked along the road, but marked the first time a closure was warranted this season, officials say. Periods of prolonged rain increase the likelihood of landslide or debris flows.

The railroad had “a couple of small rockslides over the tracks” north of the park, spokesman Tim Sullivan said. A northbound train got from Anchorage to Denali, but then passengers got bused to Fairbanks, Sullivan said. Passengers on a southbound train got backed to Healy, then took buses to Talkeetna and Anchorage.

This is the first closure of the park road due to a landslide this summer season. Landslide and debris flow events increase in likelihood during periods of prolonged rain or moisture. The regional weather service predicts rain to continue throughout today and tomorrow, so park staff will remain on alert.

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