Weather

Burst of rain triggers landslide at Anchorage apartment complex as wet weather deluges Southcentral Alaska

Ladera Villa, landslide, rain

A landslide prompted evacuations in a West Anchorage apartment building Thursday after a burst of precipitation followed weeks of wet, rainy weather.

The slope gave way behind North Star Elementary School on Thursday night, sending a barrage of soil onto an apartment complex down the hill on Arctic Boulevard. Structural risks displaced residents in 13 units, left one resident with minor injuries, and buried at least one vehicle, according to Anchorage Fire Department assistant chief Alex Boyd.

A storm system this week brought heavy rain to much of Southcentral Alaska, including the brief but powerful burst of rain Thursday night that hit parts of Anchorage including the west side and Midtown. The storm is only the latest to deluge the city: Anchorage experienced one of the wettest Augusts in recorded history.

Roughly a half inch of rain fell during a four-hour period Thursday evening near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Lawson. The precipitation was variable: Rain totals in Anchorage varied from roughly a quarter inch to nearly an inch during the 48 hours leading up to Friday afternoon.

Downed lines repaired within hours led to several brief power outages in Anchorage on Thursday night and several roadways experienced minor flooding. The fire department was also receiving reports of basement flooding.

Rain flooding

Flood watches and warnings were in place Thursday and Friday elsewhere in Southcentral Alaska.

Cordova saw the most significant rainfall, Lawson said, with more than 11 inches reported within 48 hours in some areas. Portions of the Copper River Highway reportedly had water on the roadway, he said.

The landslide at the West Anchorage apartment complex occurred after months of continued heavy rain created a pool of water up to 2 feet deep in a field behind the school up the hill, Boyd said. Water sitting on top of the saturated soil then ran over an underground clay layer and flowed down the hill.

Firefighters arrived at the Ladera Villa Apartments just after 9 p.m. for a report of someone trapped inside a room, Boyd said. That person got out before responders arrived, he said. They were treated for minor injuries.

Debris piled about 4 to 5 feet high on one corner of the building pushed in an interior wall by several feet, he said, and officials were concerned the building could collapse.

The landslide covered at least one parked vehicle, although up to three may have been buried, Boyd said.

Evacuated residents were placed in local hotel rooms overnight on Thursday and received assistance from the Alaska chapter of the American Red Cross.

Firefighters, police, nonprofits, public works officials and engineers all responded to the area Thursday night to assess the scene and offer aid, Boyd said. Heavy equipment crews and engineers arrived Friday to move debris out of the way and assess damage.

Ladera Villa, landslide, rain

Boyd said building owner Weidner Apartment Homes hoped to allow residents to return home on Friday if the building was deemed safe. Otherwise, the building owners planned to house residents in vacant units of their other properties throughout town, he said.

The company did not immediately respond to a message Friday afternoon.

This is Anchorage’s second landslide in the past week.

Officials responded to a large slide near Oceanview Bluff Park on Sept. 3 that came near a home but caused no damage or injuries, Boyd said, cautioning residents to watch for signs of danger.

“With the amount of rain that we have, these are concerning events,” he said. “And you’ve got rapid-moving, swollen waterways. Be cautious around waterways and be conscious of indicators of soil instability, things like glide cracks like you’d see on a (ski) slope. We’re used to seeing them in the winter, but it’s pretty rare when they show up in your back yard.”

The rain was expected to let up on Saturday in Anchorage, though precipitation was expected to return Sunday.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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