Danger, Juneau

Letter to the editor

Posted: Monday, September 27, 2004

The most dominating news stories in this country over the last several weeks has been the devastating hurricanes pummeling Florida and the Gulf Coast states. Millions of people have had to evacuate their homes and drive to safety inland or go to designated evacuation shelters in their communities.

The hypothetical question I have is what if tomorrow morning the people of Juneau wake up to an impending disaster that was going to occur within the next 24 hours? Let's say NASA discovered an asteroid the size of the Federal Building was going to hit in the vicinity of Lemon Creek with an impact force of a 50 megaton nuclear bomb, or the weather bureau was tracking the mother of all storms coming off the Gulf of Alaska with sustained winds of over 150 mph, or a 9.0 earthquake was immanent in Gastineau Channel, or terrorists were threatening to set off a nuclear device here in 24 hours if their demands weren't met.

The people in Florida and Alabama can drive to a safe location. What are the options for the 32,000 residents who live in Juneau? We obviously can't drive out. The airport (weather permitting) could only fly out several thousand people on such short notice, and then who goes first? The Alaska Marine Highway System could maybe ferry a couple thousand people without their vehicles to Haines or Skagway, but they would be stuck there, and not necessarily out of harm's way. That would still leave 20,000-plus residents to face the impending danger.

What type of contingency plans does the city or state have if one of these disasters should play out? If there is a plan should we not be made aware of it before we only have 24 hours to react? Where are the designated shelters one could go to? I know there were designated shelters identified during the Cold War, but that was 15 years ago, and I have no clue where they are now. I certainly don't lie awake at night worrying about the potential disasters that could haunt Juneau's future, but you never know what could be brewing down the road.

Rich Poor


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