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Drainage slows on highway lake formed by avalanche

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Conditions were too unstable Wednesday to clear the only road into the city at the end of the trans-Alaska pipeline, which remains cut off by land from the rest of the state for a fifth day because of avalanches.

Drainage has slowed from a lake formed by one of the slides, and the water is too deep for heavy equipment to pass, the Alaska Department of Transportation said.

Avalanches Friday dumped hundreds of tons of snow onto the Richardson Highway, the only road access into Valdez. The city remained accessible only by air and sea, and its 4,100 residents were taking the inconvenience in stride, according to Valdez's clerk.

One of two major avalanches put at least 40 feet of snow onto the road in Keystone Canyon, a 300-foot-wide mountain opening that begins 12 miles from the city.

The avalanche also dammed the Lowe River and created a 2,500-foot-long lake with depths of at least 5 feet.

The trans-Alaska pipeline is buried parallel to the highway and was not affected by avalanches.

The lake's water was draining Tuesday at a rate of 5 inches per hour under the avalanche and through an abandoned rail tunnel, said Transportation Department spokeswoman Hannah Blankenship. By Wednesday, the lake had receded to a length of 1,500 feet and water was no longer draining through the tunnel.

"The water is now draining at a rate of 3 inches per hour," Blankenship said.

The water remained too deep for heavy equipment to reach the avalanche from the upstream side. Crews have not removed snow from the downstream side because officials fear collapsing the snow dam and triggering a dangerous surge of water.

Transportation officials continue to monitor the lake level as water saturates the snow.

"The snow is still wet and very heavy, and it's not safe for us to move with heavy equipment," she said.

Transportation officials used explosives fired from a 105 mm howitzer Wednesday to trigger controlled avalanches at Mile 39, the site of the second major avalanche blocking the road.

Shortly after 4 p.m., crews using heavy equipment had cleared the north end of the closed road and announced 24 more miles of highway was open, from Miles 19 to 42.

That allowed people living in a subdivision at Mile 19 to drive north if they wanted, Blankenship said.

Meanwhile, the Valdez Star reported that a couple arrested Saturday for walking through an avalanche blasting area were trying to get medical care in Valdez for their cat.

Kristina Clark and Donney Carlson, driving south on the highway, found their way blocked and walked more than a mile over two avalanches to get 5-year-old Ninja to a veterinarian for treatment of an infection. Alaska State Troopers said they ignored orders to stay out of the avalanche zones and blasting had to be delayed.

Clark, of nearby Copper Center, and Carlson were picked up by a helicopter and arrested when they landed in Valdez. They were released on bail Sunday.

Dr. Kelly Hawkins treated their pet. The veterinarian said the cat would not have lasted much longer without treatment.

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
fmuddywaters January 31 2014 at 6:19 AM

I would think more than one end loader should be used, but maybe its bigger then it looks in the picture??

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crimepup January 30 2014 at 1:39 PM

The united states has the most diverse weather of any country on the planet. There is not a single area that is completely "safe" You have blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves and earthquakes. Care to name a states that does not have one or more of those events? I live in the country in northern NY but while it's not near as remote as the town in this story i would rather live there in Alaska than any major city in this country.

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1 reply
gumbiee49 crimepup January 30 2014 at 2:15 PM

And all 50 states are governed by a moron President. Yep you're right all 50 states have something in common.

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demagac500 January 30 2014 at 6:15 PM

how many weeks do you think that will take?then where do put it?

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gsnailbanger January 30 2014 at 4:19 PM

Wow ! thats incredible. Thank God for helicopters

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jigokurei January 30 2014 at 3:30 PM

BTW -- Nature has a way of showing us it's awesomeness at times...would loved to have seen this unfold at a nice, safe distance.

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1 reply
filliperogers jigokurei January 30 2014 at 6:31 PM

I lived up in North Lake Tahoe in the 80s when the most snow fall was recorded in history up there one winter, something like 900 inches fell one winter and it was a blast!! Its not that hard to adapt to cold weather climate. Course the downfall was when I moved back to Southern Calif, 80 degree weather seemed like 108 degrees. Summers are still way to hot in Southern California!

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jigokurei January 30 2014 at 3:25 PM

It is my belief that most of the 4,000 people 'stranded' didn't even know or care there was an avalanche; they were more than likely already prepared for a cold and bitter winter long before this occurred. It is more than likely that the outside world see this as a problem, and not necessarily so by the locals -- they live with the eventuality or possibility of this occurring each year...they're more than likely use to this by now, and it probably happens much more frequently than we are aware of...as they say, it goes with the territory.

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4 replies
rcalley1 January 30 2014 at 2:00 PM

Happens each year to a more or lessor degree. It one reason we all live here. We like being cut off from so called normal life. Most goods a brough in by air flights using bush planes, when the river is blocked.
We love it. We are independent, we know how to feed our families. But thanks for the shout out.

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Chicklady January 30 2014 at 3:20 PM

That cat has an awesome family! Sometimes rues need to be broken...or overlooked...

Flag Reply +11 rate up
ae12wrangell January 30 2014 at 2:02 PM

Valdez, Alaska is not actually cut off from the remainder of Alaska. People to fly to Valdez. And if they don't fly, they get there by ship - cargo, cruise, private boat. So although that one section of road has been blocked, it is not the end of the world. Then there are roads that lead the opposite way, and into The Yukon.

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usapaydirt January 30 2014 at 3:03 PM

Wow the power of Nature. Looking at those photos brings two words to mind " Access Denied "

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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