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Video: What happens when avalanche slams into an Alaska warehouse?

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published March 1, 2012

On Feb. 1, the weather was so bad in King Cove, Alaska, that the Alaska Commercial store closed about a half-hour earlier than usual.

Lucky thing. The last employee left that night about 7:30, a half-hour before the normal closing time. At 7:48 p.m., according to store manager Jeff Watt, an avalanche hit the warehouse behind the store -- an area employees typically would move in and out of at the end of the day. It pounded down a slope on the western side of the city where the store is located.

Three videos uploaded to YouTube captured the avalanche from various angles inside and outside of the warehouse:

The avalanche tore the loading-bay door from its tracks, tipped over shelves and buried a forklift inside the warehouse, but because the store had closed early, the room was empty.

"At the tail end of the day, that's when we take the trash out, or people are back there putting stock on the shelves," Watt said. "We got lucky."

The snow took three days to clear out, Watt said. They managed to get the bulk of the snow out in the first day with Bobcats and numerous people shoveling, but it took several more days to remove the snow from "all the nooks and crannies," he said.

A month later, the weather in King Cove -- 625 miles from Anchorage, near the western tip of the Alaska Peninsula -- has prevented the door from being properly repaired. It's still sheeted over, Watt said. The city's own website mentions that King Cove is located "in the midst of a storm corridor, which often brings extreme fog and high winds."

This winter has been particularly stormy in much of Alaska.

"We've had a couple of good days where it's not so bad and you could get a little done, but you can't hang sheet metal with the wind blowing," Watt said.

There were other avalanches shortly after the one that wrecked the warehouse, including one less than a mile away from the warehouse. Another avalanche came down on a road in between two police cars returning from a call, according to an Aleutians East Borough newsletter from early February.

King Cove is a community of less than 1,000 residents, but it houses a large seafood processing plant operated by Peter Pan Seafoods. The Alaska Commercial Company operates about 30 stores around the state.