Thane neighbors hunker down after snow slide

Posted: Sunday, February 08, 2009

An avalanche Saturday afternoon cut off Thane from the rest of Juneau mere hours after Larri Spengler had e-mailed the Department of Transportation again to ask about blasting in the area.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

"This is really interesting timing," said the Thane Neighborhood Association president, who had been watching city avalanche forecasts grow more dire during the week.

Just the day before, she e-mailed her neighbors information on how they could order avalanche beacons in bulk for their cars, in case they were ever trapped in a snow slide on the road.

Thane residents are familiar with avalanches, and most of them have been through a road closure before. They were hardly surprised at Saturday's closure; they'd all seen the snow signs. Once they heard about the avalanche, the neighbors called each other to make sure they were OK - Spengler started a systematic phone web - and if home on the Thane side, hunkered down and ready to wait things out.

So far, there was no evidence that anyone had been trapped in the slide.

Katie Corbus, who lives near the end of the road, hadn't heard about the avalanche until the Empire called. She had already decided to hole up for the day.

"I don't have the energy to go to town, but I guess it's just as well I didn't," she said.

Greg Smith said he drove down to check it out, along with many of his neighbors.

"It's kind of a social event," he said.

On the opposite side of where Thane residents gathered to view the snow-covered road, police and emergency responders continued to block of the roadway and access the situation.

Then Smith went home, which won't be an option for some members of his family divided by the snow in the road.

Smith and his daughter, Gillian, were home, but his wife and son, Jeanine and Duncan, were in town Saturday when the slide occurred. All they could do was wait it out.

"We have plenty of food and beer, and we're OK," he said.

Chris Mertl, his wife, two twin babies and four-year-old were all stuck, too. They went out to ogle the avalanche and take a few pictures, then came home to start a fire.

"We're just hunkering down with the family, doing some baking," Mertl said.

Not everyone was so lucky. Art Sutch was stuck in town, but was determined to get home somehow. He was considering crossing the snow with his son and dog. Sutch was angry that the area hadn't been blasted.

"I have two kids that go by that avalanche area in a school bus every day. This town has enough money to do avalanche forecasting," he said.

Spengler's reaction was more measured. She was seeking answers.

"We've been curious why they haven't been shooting (over the mountain)," she said. "What set of conditions do they need to have ... before they shoot?"

North of Thane, the only sign of the avalanche was a brief power outage for some.

In the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium, the Juneau Symphony was rehearsing. It had just reached an intense section of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, to be performed later that night, when the lights went out.

"Avalanche," a violist correctly guessed as the cause of the brown out.

The musicians kept playing in the dark for a few bars before eventually scattering. Avalanche or not, the show must go on.

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