Alaska News

Crews begin clearing huge landslide that covered road in Seward

Workers have started to clear a vast landslide that severed the community of Lowell Point, outside Seward, from its only road access Saturday. But officials have warned it could be up to two weeks before the road is fully usable again.

The access road to Lowell Point has seen smaller avalanches and landslides from the steep slopes of Bear Mountain. But on Saturday at about 7:30 p.m. a tumble of dirt and trees an estimated 200 feet long and 300 feet wide came down, burying the narrow road.

“The mountain just shed,” said City Clerk Brenda Ballou said.

No injuries were reported, and no problems related to the large debris field that spilled into Resurrection Bay have been recorded, Ballou said Monday. The city set up a shelter but no one had needed it as of Monday, she said.

On Monday, contractors used excavators to begin the process of hauling away the dirt. The debris field is estimated at 40,000 cubic yards, Ballou said.

The 200 or more people who live in Lowell Point or were visiting campgrounds and rental homes in the area have been using water taxis to get to the Seward harbor, Ballou said.

Miller’s Landing, a water taxi, camping and sea kayaking business in Lowell Point, has shuttled more than 160 people to and from Lowell Point since the slide, for free or at low cost, said Tom Miller, one of the company’s owners. Boats were running every two hours Monday, Miller said.

The road has been blocked before, but “not like this. Not for days,” Miller said.

Still, people have been “resilient and accommodating,” he said. Power and phone lines buried under the road were not knocked out by the landslide, so homes there have electricity, he said.

A community conversation about the viability of the road has been happening for years, but this may bring a new urgency, said Miller.

“We’ve explored it before, but it seems to get batted back and forth a lot with the ownership of the road.”

For some visitors with vehicles stuck on the Lowell Point, the landslide has created major transportation complexities.

Alison Craig was staying at a vacation rental in Lowell Point for what was supposed to be a weekend trip that turned complicated this weekend. The group had just returned from dinner at Woody’s Thai Restaurant in town when they joked about a landslide on the narrow access road.

“We said, ‘Oh wouldn’t it be funny if the road washed out and we could stay for another day,’” Craig said. “Well.”

The group later heard about the landslide through social media and a police warning. The friends decided to see if the road was clearable by morning, Craig said. They were scheduled to leave Monday on a water taxi, but had to leave a vehicle behind with no clear timeframe on when it could be retrieved, said Laura Spano, a speech language pathologist who was also on the trip.

There had been no major deprivations: The weather was clear and sunny, and provisions of chips and salsa were holding out.

“Could be worse,” Craig said.

Geologists with the state are expected to analyze the slide and project future potential danger, Ballou said. The Lowell Point access road is especially complicated because it’s owned in part by the City of Seward and in part by the Kenai Peninsula Borough, she said.

“There will be experts weighing in on what their estimations are of the stability of the remaining side of the mountain, and what kind of risk we are facing.”

[The above video shows Saturday’s landslide at Lowell Point Road in Seward. Video by Josh Gray.]

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a reporter who covers news and features about life in Alaska, and has been focusing on corrections and psychiatric care issues in the state. Contact her at mtheriault@adn.com.

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