On Thursday, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities crews began the task of roadway cleanup as water continued to recede from the Richardson Highway, blocked for days by a lake that was created following a series of avalanches north of the community of Valdez, nestled along Prince William Sound in Southcentral Alaska.
As work began, the lake water had receded mostly to the banks of the Lowe River, which was dammed by two avalanches over the weekend. Thursday afternoon, crews cleared ice and debris left behind by lake water in preparation to begin removing the dozens of feet of snow that cascaded onto the highway. DOT is optimistic that it will be able to start tackling the snow covering the roadway on Friday, spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow said.
There's still 40 feet of snow, "if not more," piled onto the Richardson Highway around mile 16, said Woodrow. The highway remains closed from mile 12 to mile 18.
And while the water -- which, at its peak, submerged 2,500 feet of highway -- has mostly receded, lots of ice and debris has been left behind on the roadway, Woodrow said. DOT has not seen any road damage thus far.
Crews continued to blast the hillside on Thursday, causing several small avalanches. On a scale from 1 to 5, avalanche danger has been downgraded to a 2, or moderate danger, Woodrow said. That means once there's no water left impounded by the dam, crews can safely start removing debris.
To clear the roadways, crews will "pretty much move (the snow) up and down the road until there's room on the highway," Woodrow said. They'll create roads on top of the avalanche and work to remove the snow from both the top down and bottom up, he said. Crews of roughly six to 10 will work each shift.
The flood watch for the Richardson Highway was canceled at 4 p.m. Thursday, said Valdez city clerk Sheri Pierce. The city's sole grocery store, a Safeway, continues to receive shipments via barge. Residents have also been taking advantage of increased ferry service from Valdez to Anchorage, Pierce said. The city is advising residents to be prepared for road closures through Monday.