Record rain brings floods and mudslides to Juneau

The playground at Twin Lakes Park is one of the places impacted by the storm in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Record-breaking rainfall in Juneau brought flooding, mudslides and at least one injury to several parts of town by Tuesday night.

The Glacier Highway, Highlands, Mountainside and Jordan Creek areas were impacted. Glacier Highway was closed near Wire Street while city workers and contractors cleared debris from a mudslide Wednesday morning. Parks & Recreation was also working to protect the playground at Twin Lakes Park that was inundated by mud and water.

A landslide in the Mountainside Estates neighborhood tore away part of a home at the top of Mary Ellen Way, sending a flood of debris, outbuildings and several feet of mud downhill into neighboring yards and down the street.

Rhett Morgan, who lives near the bottom of the road said he figured out what happened when about 2-3 inches of water flowed into his garage Tuesday evening.

A large landslide in the Mountainside Estates neighborhood tore off part of one family’s home and sent debris, trees, outbuildings and several feet of mud into neighboring yards on Wednesday, in Juneau. Rhett Morgan, who is exploring the landslide, said at least 40 people, including Juneau’s Mayor Beth Weldon, came out to dig a channel for the flooding, stack sand bags and clear debris. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

“This is like the first flood that I’ve been a part of,” Morgan said. “I didn’t really know what to do at first so I went to Home Depot, and they were closed last night, and banged on the door until they let me get some sandbags.”

Morgan got about 40 sandbags from the store and brought them back to his neighborhood. He said his neighbors have been placing the sandbags and diverting water. Mayor Beth Weldon showed up to help, too.

People on Mary Ellen Way started placing sandbags on the street Tuesday night. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

“It was really cool to see everyone coming together and trying to help everybody out,” he said. “I’ve lived a lot of places and I don’t think in any of those other places people would have been helping out as much as they were here last night. ”

Streets & Fleet Maintenance crews were running an excavator on Basin Road to clean up another mudslide. Crews have been working since Tuesday evening and have been on call since heavy rains were forecast for the city.

The ground outside of the AWARE offices on Glacier Avenue is covered in debris after a mudslide. (Photo by Rashah McChesney)

Elsewhere, a mudslide covered the ground outside AWARE on Glacier Avenue. People working there said they heard rumbling as the slide came down the mountain. They rushed out of their offices to move cars before they were inundated with mud. The state’s Department of Transportation was working to clear the road of trees and debris.

On Behrends Avenue in Juneau’s Highland’s neighborhood, a slide left debris rolling down the street in two directions, reaching blocks down to Egan Drive.

Juneau Public Works employee Todd Hadfield runs an excavator clearing mud from a small landslide along Behrends Avenue on Wednesday,  in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Tom Hadfield, a public works employee for the city, was running an excavator clearing debris from the road. He said it was a stressful evening and morning. He said city staff started getting calls about flooding and mudslides early Tuesday afternoon and those continued well into the night.

He said they’re doing the best they can, but asked residents to stay inside and away from blowing trees and slides.

In Switzer Creek, a tree came down on a home on Violet Street. A neighbor said the man who lives in the house went to the hospital but was in stable condition. According to Bartlett Regional Hospital, the man was later discharged.

Juneau set a new rainfall record when 4.93 inches of rain fell at the Juneau International Airport on Tuesday. That breaks the old record of 4.62 inches that fell in October 1946.

Jordan Creek crested early Wednesday at a new record height of 11.2 feet. Water covered part of the pavement, the parking area at Jordan Square and up to the doorsteps of several homes in the area.

Montana Creek water levels are also declining now after cresting at 14.69 feet and covering part of the Montana Creek Road.

Several homes along Jordan Creek are partially inundated by rising water on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, after record rainfall in Juneau, Alaska.

Cravens said their official Juneau records are based on observations continuously collected at the airport since 1936.

“You get highly variable amounts all over the Juneau area,” Cravens said.

“For climate record purposes, we try to stick with one location,” he said. “That way it’s consistent, reliable data for the whole area, rather than jumping from station to station.”

All that rain, plus higher temperatures that melted accumulated snow, prompted warnings of possible mudslides and flooding.

The City & Borough of Juneau urged residents to be prepared for landslides and avalanches. Capital City Fire/Rescue also recommended people in hillside areas to have evacuation plans ready. CCFR Chief Rich Etheridge said Centennial Hall could be used as an emergency shelter if necessary.

Cravens said the storm front is now heading northwest and dumping heavy rain on the northern part of the Panhandle, away from Juneau.

“Juneau itself is actually dry. We’re not seeing any rain right now,” Cravens said. “So, I’m sure a lot of folks out there are rejoicing at the moment for this break-in. And, that’s kind of going to be the trend through evening.”

He said Juneau may get more rain later Wednesday evening, but it won’t be heavy.

Rashah McChesney, Matt Miller and Shayne Nuesca contributed to this story.

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