Juneau landslide damages homes, displaces residents

A landslide on Gastineau Avenue in Juneau, Alaska on Sept. 26, 2022. (Photo by Claire Stremple/KTOO)

A landslide in downtown Juneau Monday evening damaged homes and knocked out power to parts of Juneau and Douglas. No injuries have been reported.

The National Weather Service office in Juneau had cautioned that landslides were possible earlier in the day, but no major warnings were issued.

Then the power went out around Juneau, just after 6:00 p.m. A few minutes later, Juneau’s power company tweeted that there was a “significant landslide on Gastineau Ave. with lines down.”

Cruise ship passengers in the harbor reported seeing a flash when the transformer blew.

First responders were on the scene within a few minutes, going door-to-door asking residents to evacuate. It was voluntary. Some stayed, and some left.

Alenita Danner was looking for her 80-year-old mom. She couldn’t get to her because a large spruce tree had fallen across the road.  

“My mom called, and she said that my aunt’s house was on the road,” Danner said. 

Part of her aunt’s house was underneath the tree. There was significant damage, but no one was inside. 

Danner’s mom was able to evacuate down one of the long stairways that runs down the steep hill below Gastineau Avenue and meet her daughter downtown.

The downed tree was also on top of Evan Hartung’s truck. 

Hartung was watching television. When he heard shaking and rumbling, he ran outside, barefoot. He said the 2020 slide in Haines was on his mind.

An AEL&P crew assessing the damage from Monday night’s Gastineau Avenue landslide on Tuesday morning, Sept. 27, 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Sarah Wallace and her partner live in the unit next to Hartung. 

“We looked at the window. We saw him running out without any shoes. And then my partner and I grabbed both of our cats and ran out. And then I ran back in for a second to grab our coats. And yeah, we’ve been out here ever since,” Wallace said.

They planned to stay with friends, after swinging by a brewery to decompress. 

Their landlord, Terry Schwarz, said the tree missed his house, but it isn’t fine. 

“There’s another house on top of it right now,” he said. 

The view from 153 Gastineau Ave. on May 18, 2022. The roof in the foreground is 157 Gastineau Ave., Terry Schwarz’s house, immediately downhill. (Photo by Ian Dickson/KTOO)

Schwarz was finishing dinner at his home in North Douglas when he got the news. 

 “I hope that we can get this cleaned up real quick,” he said. “I’m also glad that Jin wasn’t in his house — that’s the guy above us.” 

Damage from the Sept. 26 landslide on Gastineau Avenue in Juneau, seen the next morning. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Schwarz says weather like this is getting more common.

“It’s been raining pretty wild,” he said. “Rainfall intensity has definitely increased over the last couple of years here and landslides have been more and more common.”

About a dozen people who evacuated from the neighborhood ended up at a temporary shelter set up by the Red Cross and Capital City Fire/Rescue at a downtown fire station. 

A woman holding a baby sits looking at a Red Cross volunteer, who is seen from behind
An American Red Cross volunteer assists evacuee Monica Johnson after a landslide on Gastineau Avenue in Juneau on Sept. 26 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Monica and Travis Johnson were there with their two young children.

Travis was at work when the slide happened. The road was blocked by a tree, so he couldn’t get to his family by car. 

“I had to come around and park down below and go up the steps and get my family and bring them back down,” he said.

Virginia John-Daniels and her partner John Hillard came to the shelter with their dog and cat. 

“We just packed up what little we could. Definitely grabbed animals and some food for them too,” John-Daniels said. “You know, I’m just praying it doesn’t hit our place and everything we work for.”

A woman wearing a mask stands in a room with her fingers interlaced. Behind her, a man sits while a woman carries a baby.
Britta Tonnessen assists residents who evacuated from Gastineau Avenue after a landslide in Juneau Alaska, Sept. 26 2022 (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

John-Daniels has been at her place for 5 years. She used to work for the Red Cross and said it was “very different” to be on the other side of emergencies.

The Red Cross and the city plan to offer hotel vouchers for people displaced by the slide. 

The next morning, Juneau residents Jean Findley and Bret Schmiege look at the damage from a Sept. 26 landslide on Gastineau Avenue in Juneau. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

In a news release, the City and Borough of Juneau said that roads were closed in the slide area, and people should stay at least a block away. Crews will begin clearing debris in the morning.

Aaron Jacobs, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in Juneau, said one-to-three inches of rain had fallen in the last 24 hours and that two-to-three more inches were expected to fall by Tuesday morning.

This story has been updated.

Claire Stremple

Alaska News Reporter, KTOO

I believe every Alaskan has a right to timely information about their health and health systems, and their natural environment and its management. My goal is to report thoughtful stories that inform, inspire and quench the curiosity of listeners across the state.

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