Anchorage

Upper Hiland Road reopens 11 days after massive South Fork Valley avalanche

Hiland avalanche

Municipal crews on Monday reopened the upper section of Hiland Road in Eagle River after a nearly mile-long segment was buried March 24 by a massive avalanche.

The slide buried the road in Eagle River’s South Fork Valley in 60 to 80 feet of snow, narrowly missing some homes. The avalanche cut off road access for about 350 residents on Hiland Road and additional homes on South River Drive.

Officials estimated the debris to be 120 feet at its deepest point.

Hiland Road reopened Monday morning, according to Saxton Shearer, municipal director of maintenance and operations. Flagging crews remained on the road for traffic control as trucks continued moving snow from South River Drive to open access to another two dozen homes. Brief delays are expected through the week.

Until Monday, Hiland residents got out using a snowmachine trail and parked borrowed vehicles below the slide, Shearer said. People on South River Road with four-wheel drive were still using a track cleared by one landowner on his property.

The snow covered about 2 1/2 football fields worth of road or 760 feet, he said. Many residents weren’t home Monday because they’d already gone to work or school.

The first vehicle to drive the road Monday was a blue pickup, and there wasn’t much fanfare, Shearer said: “It was very anticlimactic.”

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The massive avalanche disrupted life for residents for 11 days, and people above the slide found ways to help each other. The city issued an evacuation order Friday March 25. On Sunday March 27, officials launched explosives at the mountainside in order to release any additional avalanches and mitigate risk. Evacuated residents were told it was safe to return home later that day.

Snow removal began Monday, March 28.

Trucks operated by McKenna Brothers Paving, the city’s street maintenance contractor for the area, hauled load after load to an approved snow disposal site at Powder Ridge, just up the Glenn Highway.

Projected costs are likely to exceed $1.5 million, according to prior reports.

As of Sunday, the cost of trucking the avalanche snow was a little more than $450,000, Shearer said. That didn’t include additional administrative costs for municipal personnel.

The narrow road limited snow removal efforts to one loader at a time, Shearer said. McKenna Brothers also had to use end dump trucks instead of larger side dump trucks because of the lack of turnaround spots.

Clearing is expected to continue through the week, with some additional ditching and drainage work into next week, he said.

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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