Cordova deadly avalanche area may be rezoned

Posted: Friday, January 28, 2000

ANCHORAGE - The city of Cordova is considering rezoning an area that was flattened by a killer avalanche. One woman died and four homes and at least two warehouses were destroyed in Wednesday's slide.

``We're looking to possibly condemning that area so that we can be sure that no other buildings go up there,'' Mayor Ed Zeine told the Anchorage Daily News.

Despite wind and blowing snow, several people whose homes were destroyed spent part of Thursday picking through the huge pile of wet, thick snow for their belongings.

Martha Quales, 63, was killed when the avalanche swept through the two-story house that she shared with Jerry LeMaster at Mile 5.5 of the Copper River Highway.

The 50-year-old LeMaster was buried by snow and debris for about six hours before rescuers found him and dug him out.

The avalanche snapped trees and leveled buildings in a half-mile-wide path that crossed the highway 5 miles east of Cordova's downtown. Witnesses said the avalanche was 20 feet deep in places.

Several people whose homes survived the avalanche are staying elsewhere, the mayor said, fearing more slides. A small slide came down in the same area Thursday but no one was hurt, Zeine said.

Along with the four houses destroyed, at least two more sustained moderate damage - windows blown out, lean-tos torn off and porch supports gone, said city planner R.J. Kopchak. Three or four others sustained minor damage, he said.

The roar of the avalanche sounded like a freight train or an explosion, witnesses said. At one house, the avalanche removed the top story and set it down yards away, Kopchak said.

``They had a two-story house set back from the road,'' he said. ``Now they have a one-story house on the road.''

Kopchak said he was preparing options for the city council to consider when it meets next week, including a proposal to rezone the area as an avalanche hazard area unsuitable for building.

The city also was trying to prevent the oil tanks, fuel drums and cans of solvents and paints uprooted by the avalanche from spilling into the lake.

``Eyak Lake is prime habitat for red salmon, and they're the lifeblood of this community,'' Kopchak said.

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