No injuries after two buildings’ roofs collapse in Juneau

Capital City Fire/Rescue stands outside of a building where a roof collapsed in downtown Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Juneau officials say the roofs of at least two buildings in Juneau have failed, apparently due to heavy snow loads as of noon Tuesday. Emergency responders confirmed both buildings were vacant.

One of the buildings is along Willoughby Avenue downtown. Property records show it’s a 7,200-square-foot commercial building owned by a trust based in California.

Its roof is caved in; beams are broken. The force of the collapse sent insulation up to 50 feet away.

Fire Chief Rich Etheridge said the arched roof was built with bowstring trusses.

“They can take a lot of structural load and it’s a cheap way to span long distances, but the problem is once they fail, they fail catastrophically like you can see here where they’re like, broken in half and just kind of shattered everywhere,” Etheridge said.

The water and electricity have been shut off. Etheridge said the city hasn’t been able to reach the building’s owner yet.

The other building is in the Lemon Creek area, behind Western Auto. It’s owned by a Juneau-based trust.

Juneau Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice had advice for property owners.

“Obviously, if you have a lot of snow on your structures, it’s a concern,” Mattice said. “But now is probably not the best time to be standing up on top jumping up and down on ‘em, either. So, these are difficult decisions to make.”

He said local firms with structural engineering know-how can give property owners a better idea of what to do.

“But, you know, if you’re hearing creaking and moaning? Good time to make sure you’re in a safe place,” he said.

Mattice said since the weather shifted, there have also been reports of nuisance flooding.

Josh Hunnel owns Aurora Maintenance Service. He says he’s got a waitlist with about 300 people on it who want help clearing their roofs. He says he hasn’t seen the roofs of any homes in town collapse – but he has seen some carports that have failed. 

Charlie Vice owns a three-bedroom, ranch-style house in the Mendenhall Valley. He says last week the house started making unfamiliar noises. He noticed new cracks going the length of his living room ceiling and in another room.

“You could hear the house settling, and it wasn’t the normal stuff with, you know, standard temperature changes,” Vice said. “It was – it was under a lot of stress. … So there was a lot of weight going on the trusses here, and it just kinda started to scare me.”

He cleared some snow off himself but ended up hiring help to finish ahead of the last storm. He says he paid two different sets of workers $600 total. 

The damage may not be limited to buildings. Juneau Harbormaster Matthew Creswell says two vessels sank last week due to weather, but none so far since the weekend storm and this week’s rain. He says his staff is keeping a close eye on all vessels and calling owners of boats riding low in the water.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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