Be thankful it's not 1984

Southeast Alaska residents recall fearsome storm

Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2004

A raging windstorm that flipped airplanes, sank boats and toppled power lines and trees into buildings left Juneau residents on Thanksgiving Day 1984 thankful to make away with their lives.

Giant whitecaps slammed the downtown area, washing away a rock wall that protected dirt fill that supports Marine Park and causing a section of the park to collapse. Fuel lines at Merchants Wharf were destroyed, and sections of Egan Drive, Gold Creek and Thane Road were damaged by smashing waves, according to news accounts in the Juneau Empire.

A downed tree near Old Glacier Highway took out a 69,000-volt transmission line, cutting power in the city for hours in some places and for days in others.

No one was killed by the storm and only one minor injury was reported, but the tempest left millions of dollars in property damage in Juneau and other Southeast communities.

About 20 homes were destroyed or seriously damaged in the fishing community of Tenakee Springs, where 80-mph winds and a 20-foot high tide pummeled the city.

"It's probably the worst damage from a storm that this town has ever experienced," Juneau City Manager Pat Teague said in an interview with the Empire the day after the storm. "We're just real lucky, compared to Tenakee, that there wasn't more residential damage and that no one was injured."

Brett Dillingham, 46, was deer hunting with a partner on Glass Peninsula, about 15 miles southeast of Juneau, when the storm hit.

"We had no idea it was coming," he said in a recent interview.

Dillingham was tracking a buck in the forest, when he thought he heard gunshots coming from several different directions.

"I was confused because there were no other hunters around," Dillingham said. Suddenly, a powerful wind gust snapped an old-growth tree, sending it crashing down about 60 feet from where Dillingham stood. A shockwave from the impact gave Dillingham a jolt.

"That's when I realized that those weren't gunshots," he said. "Those were trees breaking around me. At that point, I realized how dangerous the situation was, but where do you go hide?"

After returning to his skiff, Dillingham and his hunting partner attempted to return to their larger boat, when a gust of wind lifted the skiff, turned it 180 degrees and landed it on its side in the water. The two righted the boat and paddled back to shore to wait the storm out, he said.

"The day after the storm we all got together and started shoring up the cabins that were still standing".

John Wisenbaugh

Tenakee Springs resident

Jean Rogers, 85, missed the worst part of the storm before leaving for sunny California on Thanksgiving Day. As she and her husband George arrived at the Juneau International Airport, though, she noticed several planes had been flipped over by the powerful gale force winds.

"They looked like little dead birds with their feet in the air," she said this week.

Tenakee Springs resident John Wisenbaugh said he lost a cabin and a skiff in the storm. He said he also lost a freezer, a washing machine, personal photographs and other irreplaceable items when the cabin was destroyed.

He said the following day the beach at Tenakee Springs was littered with the wreckage from the boats and homes that were destroyed.

"It was a terrible mess," he said. "The day after the storm we all got together and started shoring up the cabins that were still standing. There was a huge outpouring of support from the community. That was really wonderful."

He's expecting a much calmer Thanksgiving holiday this year, he said on Wednesday.

"So far, it looks pretty good," he said.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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