Yakutat declares disaster as hazardous winter weather hits Southeast Alaska

The City and Borough of Yakutat declared a local disaster emergency as exceptionally heavy snow, rain and ice pile atop critical buildings and infrastructure.

Other communities in Southeast Alaska are also dealing with hazardous winter weather this week, with two buildings collapsing in Juneau.

Yakutat, on the upper edge of the Southeast Alaska panhandle, has seen up to 6 feet of snow in recent weeks after a rare cold snap that pushed temperatures below zero, something Borough Manager Jon Erickson called “very, very unusual.”

The town’s newly completed Yakutat Clinic Health Center was forced to close as 4 to 5 feet of heavy snow caused what Erickson estimates to be millions of dollars in water damage to the building and equipment.

“It seems to be a roof failure,” Erickson said of the $11 million facility. “It’s because of ice and snow and snow load.”

“Numerous structures within the Borough have sustained, or are in imminent danger of sustaining, significant damage,” according to the disaster declaration.

A carport at the city’s public safety building collapsed into a trailer set up for emergency management. A broken pipe flooded the community’s Head Start building. Local crews are scrambling to clear snow off the roof of elementary school and gym. The borough-owned fish processing facility, power plant, as well as stores and private residences, are also in danger.

“The available Borough personnel and resources are currently inadequate to handle the consequences of this current weather event,” according to the declaration.

Erickson said the borough hired 10 people on top of their usual four to help clear snow from buildings, raising the hourly rate of pay by 50%, but even still there’s not enough capacity to meet the need. The state of Alaska received the request for help and is dispatching personnel.

“The Alaska National Guard has been requested by the (State Emergency Operations Center) to build a team of approximately 20 service members and multiple vehicles to be transported to Yakutat, via military airlift, in order to provide emergency snow removal and building safety assessment to the community,” wrote Jeremy Zidek, a public information officer with the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Erickson said he expected Guard members to arrive Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the City and Borough of Juneau put out guidance to residents on snow removal from roofs after two buildings failed under extreme snow loads.

Barnacle Foods warehouse collapse

“CBJ is aware of two building collapses this morning, including a commercial building in Lemon Creek and a commercial building in the downtown area,” the Borough said, adding that no one was injured.

Citing “hazardous road and sidewalk conditions,” Juneau officials also announced schools would remain closed Wednesday after being closed Monday and Tuesday.

The City of Klawock issued a water conservation notice after leaks and a blockage caused water tank levels to plummet. Repair efforts were hampered because the access road was “sheer ice” and required the city administrators to call for help on Facebook to residents with snowmachines.

Schools, government buildings and roads in communities across the region have been closed because of the inclement weather.

And more is coming.

The National Weather Service issued a special weather advisory, warning that a “plume of moisture” will bring precipitation to the upper panhandle that could leave a foot of snow mixed with rain along the roadways of the Haines Borough starting Thursday and through the weekend. The same system is forecast to drop up to 3 inches of rain and gusting winds on communities from Juneau to Metlakatla, with the potential for flooding atop the snowpack.

Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers the military, politics, drugs, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. Prior to joining the paper he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.