A vehicle approaches the Haines Airport on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

Updated at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 30

Heavy rains have pummeled the Chilkat Valley from Sunday until Tuesday morning, leading to a flood advisory and at least two major road closures, leaving some motorists stranded behind an avalanche and rockslide.

Borough police reported an avalanche at 21 Mile Haines Highway that slid on Sunday evening. By about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, residents reported the DOT crews had cleared the avalanche and were allowing traffic through. 

Department of Transportation crews originally intended to start clearing the 60-foot wide slide Monday morning, but decided the risk of more slides in the area was too high. The slide was estimated to be between 10 and 15 feet high. 

Resident Tom Morphet was in Klukwan when the slide hit. He said around 4:45 p.m. on Monday he was in Kluwkan and heard a booming sound. 

“I heard a sound like a jet plane and thought ‘What the heck could that be?’” he said. He said he was one of the first residents to arrive on the slide, and spent two nights in Klukwan.

A weather station on West Fairgrounds Road recorded 2.94 inches of precipitation in 24-hours between Sunday and Monday at 8 a.m. It’s the 12th biggest rain event in the weather station’s 23-year history, according to meteorologist Jim Green. Another couple inches fell between Monday and Tuesday, Green said.

Green said since October until Monday, Haines had recorded 45.41 inches of precipitation, the highest seasonal total since the weather station has been in use, more than 20 years.  

The Haines Highway avalanche closure forced the school district to cancel bus service to the area Monday and Tuesday. Klukwan school was closed Monday and Tuesday, with staff stuck in Juneau traveling back from a conference. 

The closure led to worries by some residents about how to make emergency medical evacuations with the highway closed. Boron said that if a patient required transportation into town, authorities would make a decision at the site about whether to move a patient across the slide on foot. 

At least one person reported on Facebook that they were stuck on one side of the slide and short on supplies as they waited for the road to reopen. There is a store in Klukwan and a fire hall at Mosquito Lake, near 27 Mile. 

“I’m positive there’s people that want to get to town, but it is what it is. We’re dealing with the hand mother nature dealt us,” said Boron on Monday. 

Separately a landslide blocked traffic on Lutak Road on Monday morning, just past the ferry terminal. That slide was cleared around noon Monday.

A rocklied crossing a road
A rockslide on Lutak Road photographed Monday morning. (Photo courtesy of James Wilson)

Borough manager Annette Kreitzer said officials were monitoring the situation on Monday, checking on culverts for blockages, monitoring boats in the harbor, and taking extra precautions to prevent failure of the sewer or water systems.

Acting police chief Sgt. Josh Dryden said if residents notice culverts filling up or water running in unusual places to call the police department at 766-2121. 

Cami Fullerton of Alaska Seaplanes said all flights had been canceled Monday and waters are more than a foot deep in some areas around the airport. She said staff put sandbags at the entrance of the terminal to keep water from seeping into the building. 

“We wouldn’t recommend anyone come out here,” she said.

As of Tuesday morning, the rain had stopped. The National Weather Service forecasted cooling with more precipitation possible throughout the day, including snow. NWS put out a winter storm warning beginning Wednesday morning warning of snow accumulations of six to nine inches and wind gusts as high as 40 mph.

Jeff Moskowitz with the Haines Avalanche Center said conditions are ripe for more avalanches. 

The center put out an emergency forecast Monday warning that human-triggered avalanches are very likely throughout the day. Moskowitz said weak layers in the snow pack were made weaker during cold spells over the last few weeks. The recent deluge soaked the snow, making it heavy and more likely to slide on steep slopes. 

“It’s a good day to stay inside,” said Moskowitz on Monday. 

Helpful links: 

National Weather Service forecast and weather alerts for Haines

Sign up for Haines Borough Police Nixle alerts

Haines Avalanche Center

Haines Borough Facebook

This story has been updated.