Mudslides menace downtown

Apartment building, several vehicles damaged by debris on Gastineau Avenue

Posted: Sunday, November 15, 2009

Residents of several city blocks evacuated downtown Saturday morning after a mudslide released above Gastineau Avenue, bringing snapped tree limbs and a torrent of mud and water down with it.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

An apartment building and several vehicles were damaged as the debris came to rest four feet deep on Gastineau Avenue.

No injuries were reported.

Juliana Papp heard a tree snap then saw a mass of mud pressing against her bedroom window, the Strasbaugh Apartments resident said. She called 911.

"It started flowing in like chocolate cake mix," Papp said. "I started freaking out and screaming."

Papp threw on tennis shoes and a coat and left everything else behind.

"I didn't know if I should pack a bag or what," she said.

Next door, Evan Patterson was woken up by his roommate telling him to hurry and move his car.

"I was too late," said Patterson, who figures his 1998 Nissan is totaled.

The Pathfinder's front end was crushed by a tree limb and the bumper encased in mud.

Patterson and his 2-year-old black Lab, Shilo, lived in the house for only two weeks. He stuffed clothes, a sleeping bag and his toothbrush in a backpack, leashed Shilo and left the property.

It's not clear when he and Shilo can go home.

Nonstop rain saturated the ground overnight, making the hillside above Gastineau Avenue unstable, Capital City Fire Rescue Chief Eric Mohrmann said.

Reports of a second landslide to the south of the downtown neighborhood confirmed ground instability, and Mohrmann decided early Saturday to expand the evacuation for public safety.

Police evacuated residents in the 200 block of Gastineau Avenue, then began knocking on doors of homes and businesses south of Decker Way on South Franklin Street.

Residents of the Strasbaugh, Channel View and State apartment buildings were evacuated.

As many as 80 people were affected, police estimated.

By noon Saturday, 30 to 50 people had come through an emergency shelter set up at Centennial Hall, an American Red Cross volunteer said.

People also gathered at the Glory Hole on South Franklin Street, drinking coffee and using the Internet while police cordoned off surrounding streets.

The Glory Hole is a shelter and soup kitchen that serves Juneau's homeless.

A woman living in a car parked Friday night on Gastineau Avenue said she heard the mudslide at about 6:30 a.m. She did not want to give her name.

"It sounded like a falling tree," she said. She went to the Glory Hole when police told her to leave the area.

Although the homeless shelter is in the evacuation zone, the woman said she would not go to Centennial Hall.

Police closed the south end of Gastineau Avenue but otherwise only advised residents to leave the area.

"We are not forcing them," police spokeswoman Cindee Brown-Mills said.

Red Cross volunteers set up 40 cots at Centennial Hall but didn't know how many people would spend the night.

Hillside stability and property damage would be inspected this morning, Brown-Mills said, and an update given at a 10 a.m. press conference at Centennial Hall.

Saturday was the second time in less than three months that residents of Channel View Apartments were asked to leave their homes. The building was evacuated in August when a resident barricaded himself inside his apartment, causing a 20-hour standoff with police that ended peacefully.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or

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