‘Likely that we’re out of business’: Rock slide severely damages Ketchikan grocery store

Products are strewn across the parking lot as Ketchikan Fire Marshal Andrea Buchanan walks toward Tatsuda’s IGA to inspect the building’s interior Thursday. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

An early-morning rock slide Thursday, Feb. 27, may put a Ketchikan grocery store out of business. No one was hurt in the rockfall.

Owners say Tatsuda’s IGA may be closed for good after a rock slide fell in the early morning hours.

“The building inspector and fire marshal just went in and took pictures,” said co-owner Bill Tatsuda. “And it’s really bad — we’re not going to be open for quite a while, if at all ever.”

Ketchikan Fire Marshal Andrea Buchanan says the grocery store’s fire alarm went off just before 1 a.m.

“What we had was a significant rock slide,” she said at the scene. “The rocks impacted the west wall of the building, pushing the wall in and affecting the structural membranes and components that give stability to the building.”

To make matters worse, Buchanan says the slide broke pipes and activated the store’s sprinkler system. She says that likely caused water damage beyond the slide itself.

The grocery store’s cliff-side wall took the brunt of the damage from Thursday’s slide. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

By 9 a.m. firefighters were still surveying the damage from above with a ladder truck. Trees that had fallen from the cliffs above were sticking out of the building’s roof. Exposed, pink insulation sat next to grocery-store items strewn all around the parking lot — unopened soda boxes, packages of bread and bags of chips.

At this point, officials say they don’t know what caused the slide. But U.S. Forest Service soil scientist Dennis Landwehr says landslides like this one are common all over Southeast Alaska for a couple reasons.

“Well, we have an abundance of rainfall. So, rainfall tends to drive landslides,” he said. “We also have an abundance of steep slopes.”

Landwehr says he’s also not sure what caused this morning’s slide. But he says he suspects freezing and thawing water ate away at the bedrock that supported the trees and soil on the cliff above the grocery store.

Tatsuda says he’s never seen anything like it in the store’s nearly 46 years on Ketchikan’s Stedman Street.

“Nothing to this scale. We’ve had smaller rock slides that didn’t really damage the building much at all,” he said. “But this one here is major, major structural and equipment damage.”

Fire Marshal Buchanan later said that she and building officials were able to inspect the grocery store in the morning.

“We’ve come up with a plan to be able to brace and shore portions of the building up that safely will allow Tatsuda’s staff to go in and remove commodities for salvage,” she said.

Tatsuda says this may be the end of his more than 100-year-old family business.

“Well, I personally think it’s very likely that we’re out of business, simply because 5 years ago, we did a major remodel, and we still owe a lot of money on that,” he said.

He says he’s not sure whether insurance will cover the damage. But he’s upbeat. He says he’s glad the store was closed and nobody was inside when the rocks fell.

“So, no injuries, which is good,” he said. “A person can always start over if you’re still alive.”

It’s not the first time the Tatsuda family has had to start over. In the century since his grandparents started the business, it’s survived two structure fires and WWII when thousands of Americans of Japanese descent — including the Tatsudas — were interned for the duration of the war.

Officials say they aren’t sure when salvage efforts will get underway. And in the meantime, residents in this part of town will likely have to travel nearly 2 miles to the nearest supermarket for groceries.

This story has been updated.

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