Soaked city on the move

Mud slimes off the mountainsides as creek levels creep closer to flood stage

Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Juneau has never recorded so much rain at the airport as it has in the last seven days, National Weather Service forecaster Carl Dierking said Tuesday evening.

The 9.68 inches measured officially at the airport made it the first weeklong period with more than 9 inches of rain.

"That (record) will definitely go up, probably to more than 10 inches," he said, looking at the immediate forecast.

A mudslide, with branches and debris more than a foot deep, completely blocked Wickersham Avenue and interupted automobile traffic on Glacier Highway after 5 p.m. Tuesday. Neighbors began clearing the road with shovels and a bucket-loader, as they waited for state cleanup crews to show up.

More rain was forecast overnight, and one more surge of warm, wet tropical air was expected to bring rain tonight and possibly into Thursday, he said.

Downtown Juneau has been even wetter in the last week, recording 14.2 inches, Dierking said.

With Jordan Creek rising just a few feet from his 2198 Cascade St. home, Steve Jones said late Tuesday afternoon that he wasn't going to evacuate.

"I was a little nervous (Monday)," he said at the porch of his home near the Juneau International Airport, noting that the water was higher then, despite the continuation of what the National Weather Service called record weeklong rain.

Less than an hour later in the 1900 block of Glacier Avenue at the edge of the downtown area, Lilly Day worked her way through muddy water rushing down the street. She was getting her family out of the area.

"I was at a dentist appointment when my daughter called," she said, pointing to the river of water, mud and debris rushing down the hill between houses.

"Downtown always runs higher," he said.

Tuesday's rain at the airport came in at more than an inch, not nearly as heavy as Monday's 3.45 inches or Friday's 2.51 inches - both records for the date.

Tuesday set another weather record for Nov. 22, with a high temperature of 50, Dierking said.

As of Tuesday night, flood warnings were scheduled to remain in effect until 9 a.m. for Jordan and Montana creeks in the Mendenhall Valley. A let-up in the rain coming into Tuesday allowed the creeks to drain some, Dierking said.

"They certainly bear some watching with the system (Tuesday) night," he added.

Tuesday afternoon, Montana Creek, where flood stage is considered 17 feet, had receded to 15.26 feet, he said. Jordan Creek was on the edge of flood stage when it peaked at 7.28 feet Monday, but it had dropped to 6.36 feet Tuesday afternoon.

While Jordan Creek was high at the back of Jones' home, the front yard was filled with puddles from the week of rain.

Such conditions raise health worries at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Lori Sowa at DEC said the agency issued advisories in Southeast Alaska about flooded septic systems, especially in areas where people drink well water. Such problems could be most troubling in low-lying lots and near swollen rivers and streams.

"This morning we got a call from Klawock (on Prince of Wales Island, 56 miles from Ketchikan)," she said. Residents of a neighborhood said they were worried about their waste systems backing up.

"Drinking water could be contaminated," she said.

Wells that have been flooded in such places may be contaminated by surface water, she said. Even people in Juneau who get water from the city system may have to be careful with septic and private wastewater systems. Sowa said such systems can fail to work and could back up, and people may need to limit the use of their plumbing.

Anyone with questions about disinfecting wells or looking to have their water tested can call the Juneau office of DEC at 465-5333.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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