The Bristol Bay Times
The Bristol Bay Times

Chignik avalanche leaves community without power for 4 days

The avalanche spilled across one of Chignik’s main roads on the night of February 16 cutting off some homes and the airport from the rest of the community. Chignik’s mayor, Robert Carpenter, said that there were no deaths or injuries from the avalanche, but that it did destroy a power box, leaving the community’s roughly 100 residents without power. The community lost phone service as well.

“It pushed a container across the road and almost into the slough. Also, [it pushed] a flatbed truck and a skiff, which was in pieces, and [it] took out a power box that controlled power to the main part of town,” he said.

Carpenter said that a city crew was able to clear the avalanche debris off the road a few hours later and the city began to speak with state emergency services the next morning. He said the community had to wait several days before linemen could get to Chignik to repair the damage to its power system.

Chignik’s runway was too soft to land planes at the time, so the Alaska Department of Transportation arranged for a repair crew to travel to the community by helicopter.

Bad weather prevented the crew from reaching the community for four days; the crew restored power on Tuesday evening. Carpenter said that the phone service company GCI also arrived on Tuesday and restored service later that night.

While they waited, the community relied on small generators for power. Carpenter said it took a couple of days to distribute the generators which came from the city, Chignik residents and the nearby community of Chignik Lagoon, who sent them by boat.

Carpenter said that Trident Seafoods sent a tender from Sand Point as well as some food and water. The tender was available to ferry people from point to point, he said, but did not need to.


He said that residents with Starlink, a satellite internet service, helped keep the community connected to the outside world.

Lana Anderson is a temporary office worker for the city. She said that with the small generator, her family prioritized what they needed to power at home.

“We couldn’t have all our appliances on. We alternated between the most important things,” she said.

Anderson said they transferred power back and forth from their heater to their freezer. For a couple of hours, she said, her family turned off their heat to use the internet.

The avalanche came after two days of heavy snow followed by two days of heavy rain. Gabriel Wolken, the Climate and Cryosphere Hazards Program Manager at the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, as well as a research professor at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said those conditions are ideal for generating an avalanche.

“If there’s a recipe for generating an avalanche, you need to have a slope of a certain angle, you need to have a snowpack with weak layers involved, and a trigger is necessary,” he said.

Wolken said that those weak layers of snow get buried in the snowpack and they can act as a sliding surface. He said that subsequent heavy snow, heavy rain or blowing snow can then an trigger an avalanche.

Mayor Robert Carpenter said now that power and phone service have been restored and the road is open, the community doesn’t need anything except reassurance they can use that road safely.

“People are concerned safety-wise of traveling that road. We’re trying to keep traveling down to a minimum,” he said. “If you don’t need to travel on it, don’t. But it is a lifeline to the community because the airport is on that far side.”

Carpenter said Chignik is working with the state to assess the risk of further avalanches.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.