Avalanche mitigation complete, evacuated residents allowed to return home

Published: Mar. 27, 2022 at 11:58 AM AKDT
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EAGLE RIVER, Alaska (KTUU) - After Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson issued an evacuation order Sunday to evacuate all residents between miles 7 and mile 7.9 of Hiland Road who are beyond the debris of an avalanche that blocked the road, the Municipality of Anchorage began allowing evacuated residents to return to their homes, warning of them of possible future risks.

The avalanche buried an approximate 300-400 foot stretch of the road in depths of up to 80 feet late Thursday night, stranding over 100 residents.

According to a press release, mitigation efforts have completed and residents who had evacuated will be able to return to their homes.

“Mitigation efforts for the Hiland Road Avalanche are complete and were successful,” the release said. “Safety teams have assessed potential risks for reentry. Significant risks remain in place until snow clearing operations are complete. The public will be allowed back in the area affected by the evacuation order effective immediately. We do caution residents from returning to their homes until snow is removed.”

The release said that removal of snow from the roadway will begin Monday and is expected to take up to two weeks.

In a press conference Sunday afternoon from Hiland Road, Municipal Manager Amy Demboski said that residents needed to evacuate the area so that state avalanche experts could mitigate the possibility of additional avalanches by dropping explosives on the snowpack above the threatened homes.

“It is still a very active and unstable slide area,” Demboski said. “A decision was made to commence with mitigation efforts this morning in conjunction with the state of Alaska and Municipality of Anchorage officials, with the expertise and advice of avalanche experts.”

An emergency shelter was set up at the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center for residents who are displaced by the evacuation order, and the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department has been shuttling residents across the slide. Bronson issued a disaster declaration yesterday.

“Release of the remaining snowpack will occur naturally or through mitigation efforts,” Demboski said. “If we have an uncontrolled release at an unknown time, that could result in the loss of life. We want to do everything we can to prevent that through mitigation efforts and an evacuation. We can prevent loss of life and ensure the safety of our residents.”

Assistant Anchorage Fire Department Chief Alex Boyd is the incident commander, and said that the best window to drop explosives would be prior to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

“We know that leaving this hazard in place presents a considerable risk to life and property in the area,” Boyd said. “We feel that that makes it necessary for us to attempt to mitigate this hazard as we move forward.”

Demboski said that Gov. Mike Dunleavy came to the avalanche site on Hiland Road on Saturday with Department of Transportation and Public Facilities officials who were assessing the slide, and thanked numerous agencies who have assisted the evacuation efforts. Boyd was not able to provide an estimate on Sunday afternoon of how many residents have already evacuated and how many remaining residents still needed to evacuate.

Gov. Dunleavy and Mayor Bronson discuss avalanche mitigation with Department of Transportation...
Gov. Dunleavy and Mayor Bronson discuss avalanche mitigation with Department of Transportation avalanche specialists.(Photo Courtesy Corey Young)

“In order to perform mitigation of avalanche risks, it is an unacceptable risk that residents remain in their homes in the avalanche runout zone,” the evacuation order said.

Demboski said that approximately half of the snowpack on the slopes above Hiland Road had come down in the initial avalanche on Thursday.

“The size of this avalanche is massive,” Demboski said. “It has been described by avalanche experts as a once in 100 year event.”

Demboski said that the approximately 100 residents beyond the avalanche were being provided with the evacuation order and a fact sheet.

“Because of current weather conditions, and incoming weather, mitigation needs to occur on 3/27,” the fact sheet said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to provide additional information.

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