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Scientists arrive in Haines to survey landslide, evaluate hazards

Scientists took the LeConte ferry from Juneau to Haines to study a landslide that has resulted...
Scientists took the LeConte ferry from Juneau to Haines to study a landslide that has resulted in two missing people.(Heather Hintze for Alaska's News Source)
Published: Dec. 4, 2020 at 3:18 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Scientists from the Department of Natural Resources are in Haines to examine the landslide and determine when it will be safe for emergency crews to get into the area.

Katreen Wikstrom Jones is a state geologist based in Girdwood and works for the Climate and Cryptosphere Hazards Program. Ronald Daanen is a hydrologist in Fairbanks specializing in slope stability, drainage systems and water flow in snow.

They said one of their main objectives is to help with the search and rescue efforts.

“The biggest question out there right now can people safely go out on the landslide,” Daanen said.

On the M/V LeConte, the pair was out on the deck taking photos of the landslide as the ferry went by.

Daanen said the slide was deep into the bedrock on the hillside. They’re monitoring it to see what hazards could impact crews.

“Some of these things are rockfall that the upper scarp area is very steep and there are lots of cracks so there could be rockfall that comes on to where the landslide happened and these boulders could roll all the way down to the water and hit somebody, kill somebody so we obviously want to watch out for that,” Daanen said.

As the rain continues, he said there’s a concern about increased water in the basin and how that would impact the mud that’s already there.

“You cannot escape once you get into that. Get dragged just like an avalanche. So that’s really dangerous,” Daanen said.

Daanen and Wikstrom Jones said heavy machinery is out of the question for now. The large equipment creates vibrations that might take away the support in the area, potentially causing additional slides.

There’s an estimated nine feet of debris covering the area and Wikstrom Jones said people need to tread lightly.

“Testing the slope by putting up boards would allow them to get out of there really fast too if something was happening on the slope,” Wikstrom Jones said.

There’s also a concern for a larger landslide across the bay that could trigger a tsunami that could impact the town of Haines itself. When weather permits, Daanen and Wikstrom Jones need to fly over the area to get a better understanding of any potential problems.

Beach Road remains closed near Soap Suds Alley.

“The site should dry out before equipment is deployed. It’s unfortunate in winter, this time of year I don’t see any dry weather so it’s going to be a while,” Daanen said.

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