Anchorage

Driver badly hurt when falling rock hits car on Seward Highway

A rock that tumbled onto a car on a notoriously unstable section of the Seward Highway south of Anchorage left the driver with life-threatening injuries Friday.

The rockfall closed the highway between Potter Marsh and near McHugh Creek early Friday, police said.

weather, Seward Highway, Turnagain Arm

After responding to minor rockslides through a night of deteriorating weather, police got word of a large slide around 5 a.m., spokesman MJ Thim said.

A man driving a Kia Forte south on the highway was struck by a “large rock” that fell from a cliff just south of McHugh Creek, Thim said. The rock hit the car’s roof. Police did not identify the man.

The driver, who was alone, was transported to a hospital, he said. His status wasn’t available Friday afternoon.

The Department of Transportation shut down the highway in both directions to clear rocks and debris. The road reopened within two hours.

State transportation officials warned that drivers should continue to use caution in the area due to the potential for additional slides along the highway in the area from McHugh Creek to Potter Marsh from Mile 111 to 113.

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A problematic 10-mile section of road between Mile 104 and 114 is known for rockslides and ice falls.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake highlighted the risks. A commercial truck driver narrowly escaped a boulder that toppled during the Nov. 30 quake at Mile 111 and sliced into his engine. A large aftershock sent rocks cascading toward a woman collecting water at Mile 109.

In October, a rockslide briefly closed the northbound Seward Highway in the same area. Authorities said rainy, windy weather triggered the slide.

In September, a landslide near Indian slowed traffic on the Seward Highway for hours.

A woman driving at Mile 113 in 2012 was seriously injured after falling ice crushed her pickup.

Friday’s rockfall wasn’t related to the earthquake or recent aftershocks, transportation officials said.

But the recent conversion from cold temperatures to mild ones combined with wind and rain is a “exactly the kind of weather we have prior to rockfall,” said Shannon McCarthy, spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Transportation.

McCarthy lives in the area, just north of Mile 114. It was 42 degrees there, two days in a row, she said. “Really warm.”

The rock that severely injured the driver fell at about Mile 113, McCarthy said. An ongoing state highway safety improvement project includes three spots in that mile alone.

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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