Yakutat declares disaster emergency, citing an imminent threat of roofs collapsing

Snow piled up at the entrance of a building.
A collapsed car port at the Public Safety Building in Yakutat.(Casey Mapes)

The City and Borough of Yakutat declared a local disaster emergency on Tuesday, citing the imminent threat of roof collapse caused by dangerous snow loads accumulating throughout the Southeast Alaska city.

Borough Manager Jon Erickson said Yakutat has gotten about 6 feet of snow over the past few weeks, causing intermittent power outages, damage to buildings and school closures. The city normally keeps four snow shovelers on retainer, but Erickson said the team is too small to keep up with the accumulating snow.

“We’ve been shoveling off, but right now we just don’t have enough shovelers,” he said. “So we contacted emergency management, and they’re probably going to be sending a team of 10 shovelers down here.”

One of the hardest hit structures has been the newly built $11 million Community Health Center, which Erickson said could cost millions to repair and is currently functioning only as an emergency facility.

“We closed the Community Health Center so we don’t have any outpatient service. All we have is emergency service and ambulance service. That’s really what’s kind of scary,” said Erickson.

According to a news release from the State Department of Military and Veteran Affairs late Tuesday, the Alaska National Guard is deploying service members and vehicles to Yakutat via military airlift to assist with emergency snow removal and building safety. 

Snow piled up outside of a building
The school building in Yakutat, which will be closed through January 14th due to dangerous snow accumulation (Casey Mapes)

Other Southeast communities are also struggling to cope with the aftermath of a cold snap that hit the region with severe winter weather last week. 

In Juneau, heavy snow gave way to rain on Monday, closing schools, state offices and the community’s largest grocery store. The roofs of two buildings failed on Tuesday due to heavy snow loads.

A collapsed building.
The roof at a commercial building in Lemon Creek collapsed Tuesday. No one was injured, officials said. (Photo courtesy of City and Borough of Juneau)

In the small Admiralty Island community of Angoon, freezing temperatures have taken a toll on the already-stressed water facility, causing village-wide water shortages.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium are in the process of providing additional support to the community, said DEC’s Tammy Helm.

“They did discover that the generator was only putting out two of the three normal phases which caused the plant to shut down,” said Helm. “That issue was fixed by yesterday afternoon and the power was restored to normal. They were then able to start the water plant and start making water again by nine o’clock last night.”

DEC remote maintenance staff, an ANTHC utility engineer and a Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium electrician will be traveling to Angoon on Wednesday to troubleshoot any damage which may have been done to the distribution facility during the freeze. Mayor Maxine Thompson said that the cost of the maintenance will be covered by the Angoon Community Association.

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