Seward Highway reopens after avalanche blocks traffic

Officials use artillery to loosen snow, prevent more slides in region

Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Seward Highway is open again, about 24 hours after an avalanche blocked traffic in both directions.

It reopened at about 2 p.m. Saturday at Mile 21.

The closure stranded motorists, including some holiday travelers, in Seward and blocked access to the city. The state used artillery to loosen hazardous snow and prevent more avalanches in the area.

Roger Wetherell, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said Friday the highway was closed in both directions about 21 miles north of Seward. Wetherell said no injuries were reported.

The avalanche occurred south of Crown Point and north of the Snow River Crossing at the end of Kenai Lake, or 17 miles south at the juncture of the Sterling and Seward highways.

Crews were sent to set up electronic message boards to alert travelers of the problem, Wetherell said. The highway remained closed overnight.

Troopers said no alternative routes lead to Seward, so all traffic had to turn around. Motorists have been told to avoid the section of highway where the avalanche occurred because of the unstable snow pack.

Wetherell said the plan Saturday morning was to bring in heavy equipment, such as front loaders and dozers, to help remove the snow. He said a 105-millimeter howitzer will be used to bring down unstable snow and mitigate avalanche danger if necessary.

Randy Vanderwood, DOT's central region chief of maintenance and operations, said crews didn't attempt to clear the road Friday because with the diminishing daylight, it made more sense to make a better assessment in the morning.

Earlier this week, the National Weather Service said conditions were ideal for avalanches because the snowpack was under warmer and wetter snow. The service advised backcountry skiers to stay away from the Turnagain Pass area north of the avalanche site.

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