Avalanche knocks out electricity

Early morning snowslide strands Thane residents

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2002

Cleanup efforts continued this afternoon after an early morning avalanche hit Thane Road, knocking out power citywide, causing a vehicle accident, and stranding some residents on the other side of a 20-foot wall of snow.

The state Department of Transportation fired avalanche-control shots this morning in an effort to bring down remaining snow threatening the area, said Greg Patz, chief maintenance operator for DOT. Patz said the shoot would make it safer for crews working to clear the road.

DOT attempted to mitigate the chance of a large slide Monday when it conducted a controlled shoot on Thane, but virtually nothing came down, he said.

Patz said after today's shoot, workers would use a bulldozer to clear the snow throughout the day, dumping it either in the channel or a snow storage facility. He said he anticipates the road would reopen within 24 hours.

Meanwhile, engineers for the Alaska Electric Light and Power Co. spent today repairing damage to electrical poles in the area.

The slide shortly after midnight cut power to most parts of the city for up to two hours in some areas, said David Stone, consumer relations director for AEL&P. He said the snow hit two high-voltage lines carrying power from the Snettisham hydropower plant to Juneau. Both were knocked out of service, but AEL&P was able to recharge one of the lines, which is capable of powering all of Juneau, he said. Use of standby diesel generators was unnecessary.

AEL&P Engineer Peter Bibb said the slide also damaged the wooden electrical poles.

"It grabbed the guy wires along the side of the poles that attach to the tops of the poles," he said. "On two of the poles - we have three out there - the weight of the snow just busted the tops right off two of them."

Bibb said the power company has plans this year to bury power lines in the Thane area to prevent outages from future slides.


No injuries were reported from the slide, despite a one-vehicle accident around 3 a.m. today, said Police Sgt. Kevin Siska. Police said a truck driven by a Thane Road resident struck fallen alder trees at the edge of the snowslide. Siska said the man's vehicle became entangled in the branches, but he walked away from the accident unharmed.

For residents of Thane stuck behind the snow wall, TEMSCO Helicopters offered rides from a staging area at Sheep Creek to the rock dump, where a van was to take residents to a drop-off point near the Red Dog Saloon downtown. TEMSCO, as well as the Coast Guard and Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search, also were available for emergency situations.

Walt Sperl, who's lived on Thane with his wife for 56 years, said he's spending his snow day wishing DOT would have asked some of the "old-timers" about avalanches.

"I could have told them within a few hours of that slide that it would happen," he said. "You live out here long enough you kind of know. If I would have gone to town last night and saw the rain and felt the temperature, I would have went right back home. I'd of known what was coming."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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