City reopens Gastineau Avenue

Cold temperatures stabilize steep hillside that slid into downtown neighborhood

Posted: Monday, November 16, 2009

Downtown residents displaced by Saturday's mudslides were allowed back into their homes Sunday morning.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Cold temperatures stabilized the hillside by freezing the ground, reducing concerns that more slides could come down, Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Mohrmann said.

Evacuees were warned to keep a bag packed and be ready to vacate again if temperatures increase or it begins to rain, which Mohrmann said could reintroduce a slide threat.

A bus started shuttling evacuees at about 11 a.m. from an emergency shelter at Centennial Hall to their neighborhood near the south end of downtown.

As many as 80 people were affected by evacuations ordered Saturday morning after two mudslides carrying tons of mud, water and tree limbs barreled down steep slopes above Gastineau Avenue at about 7 a.m.

An apartment complex and several vehicles were damaged in the slides. No one was injured.

Gastineau Avenue was closed south of the 200 block, and residents on South Franklin Street below were evacuated for safety reasons as water and mud ran over the streets.

Three apartment complexes - Strasbaugh, Channel View and State - were evacuated, along with single family homes and apartments above storefronts along South Franklin's tourist district.

Shannon Phillips said she felt apprehensive about returning to her apartment. If more debris trickled down, her place on South Franklin Street would be in its path, she said.

Phillips had packed two bags, a blanket and a pillow after emergency personnel knocked on her door, telling her to evacuate. She drove to a friend's house and spent the night, then went to Centennial Hall Sunday morning to hear official news that residents could go home.

"I had a place to go, so my worries were nothing compared to a lot of people here," she said.

About 25 people spent the night at the shelter, and 40 were served dinner Saturday, according to the Red Cross.

Volunteers also assisted a group of homeless who said their tents and tarps were washed away by the mudslides.

"It's all gone," said David Lindoff, who was being helped by Polaris House staff to find new clothing and temporary housing.

The Polaris House is a nonprofit that helps people with mental illnesses.

Lindoff had just moved away from a squatters' camp on private property, known as "The Hill," that was razed this week. He had moved further up the steep slope, and the few belongings he had left washed away Saturday.

"All my clothes, my ID, some electrical equipment," were gone, he said. "I didn't have much."

Up to 20 people were camped below him on the hillside, he said.

A man known as "Captain Kirk" who had lived among squatters had not been seen for several days, a woman reported.

Polaris House staff knew the man and were trying to locate him, possibly at a residence of some friends, City Manager Rod Swope said. Conditions did not allow a body search in the debris, he said.

City engineers closed Strasbaugh Apartments Sunday because of suspected structural damage. Slide debris up to 10 feet high piled up against the back and side of the three-story, yellow building at 231 Gastineau Avenue.

Two of the six apartment units were damaged by mud during the slide. One resident said her bedroom window smashed and mud flowed into her apartment during the slide.

Two vehicles parked outside the complex were smashed by tree limbs and buried in mud. One pickup was swept across the road and into a concrete barrier.

A second slide that witnesses reported hearing Saturday morning after the first at Strasbaugh Apartments came down in a creek bed to the south of State Apartments. It did not damage any structures but partially buried a pickup truck at the south end of Gastineau Avenue.

The fire department placed several dozen sandbags around the back of a building on South Franklin Street to divert water running off debris from the second slide from damaging the building's interior.

Swope said residents of the neighborhood should pay attention to the weather for the next week, since warm temperatures or rain could change slope stability.

"We'll keep a close eye on it and keep people informed," he said.

Similar concerns are expected to come up with next spring's thaw, Swope said.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or

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