Sitka, AK landslide disaster counts on utility, municipal workers

In what Fire Department Chief Dave Miller described as “bigger than anything we’ve ever had in Sitka”, a series of landslides and torrential rain on August 18th provided a grim reminder of the terrible potential of natural disasters, and the heroic courage of first-responders and volunteers alike who come to aid when they occur.

Three people have been confirmed dead after being presumed missing for various periods of time over a week-long tragedy in Sitka, a coastal borough of about 9,000 people in southeastern Alaska. It began with heavy rains overnight on last Tuesday, the 18th, which amounted to 2.59 inches of rain between midnight and 10 AM the following morning. The most severe of the slides (as many as five were documented in the Sitka area) occurred on Kramer Avenue, submerging a house that was under construction and taking residents with it.

City officials estimated 100 workers and volunteers responded to the emergency, which included landslides, flooding, road closures and evacuations of buildings and neighborhoods, and significantly cut off road access to the city’s hydroelectric plants.

“We don’t have access to either hydro plant at this time, so that’s a priority as well,” said City Administrator Mark Gorman, who was present at the Kramer Avenue site immediately after the first 911 call was received. “We have to make sure our utility grid is protected.” Gorman said Sawmill Creek Road, which was closed at Whale Park, was expected to be opened for emergency vehicles this afternoon.

Reopening that road was the city’s second priority behind finding the people missing on Kramer Avenue.

Unfortunately, those who came to aid were unable to do much for risk of their own safety, due to the precarious conditions around the affected areas and the risk of recurring slides.

As of 4:15 PM local time on August 26th, all of those who had been missing were found and identified.

The EA staff sends our condolences to all of the families of those who were taken in this tragedy.


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