The Seward Highway was temporarily closed by two separate slides Monday morning between Anchorage and Girdwood, including one which saw a vehicle hit a rock that had landed on the highway. State officials say traffic is now moving on the highway.
According to Alaska Department of Transportation spokesperson Rick Feller, a rockslide at Mile 106 near False Creek north of Indian at about 5:30 a.m. blocked the highway’s northbound lane and partially obstructed the southbound lane.
Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters says shortly after the slide, a male driver hit a rock that it had left on the road. Family members drove him to a local hospital for evaluation of reported aches and pains; Peters says details on the incident were limited because there was no official response by troopers or emergency medical services.
"It was a pretty big-sized rock," Peters said.
DOT crews quickly cleared the rockslide debris from the Seward's southbound lane, with flaggers at the scene directing intermittent traffic in both directions until the highway was completely cleared at about 9 a.m.
Just as crews had recovered from their response to the rockslide, Feller says a nearby avalanche at about 11:30 a.m. affected all three lanes of the highway, effectively closing it at Mile 95 just south of Bird Point.
Before work on clearing the avalanche began, Feller says workers fired several howitzer rounds at the mountain above the site as a precaution to release any other unstable material in the area.
“That’s for the safety of the public, as well as the safety of our own crews,” Feller said.
The avalanche debris was cleared and the highway was reopened two hours later, at about 1:30 p.m. According to Feller, crews were so busy responding to the slides that his office only received full details on them when they had been cleared.
“It wasn’t really until the situation was under control that the information started flowing,” Feller said.
DOT has stepped up its oversight of possible slide areas along the Seward since last week, when a National Weather Service forecast called for a “Hawaiian Express” series of storms to be drawn north into Southcentral Alaska over the weekend.
Feller says higher temperatures from that weather front, combined with rain distributing heat into nooks and crannies of accumulated material, has caused accelerated warming and energy releases in the form of falling materials -- like those in Monday’s slides.
Contact Chris Klint