Avalanche blocks traffic, knocks out power along major Eagle River road

A huge pile of snow blocks a road
Anchorage police and other officials are responding to an avalanche on Hiland Road in Eagle River on Mar. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Corey Allen Young, Office of Mayor Dave Bronson)

An avalanche has blocked a major road in Eagle River, stranding some local residents and knocking out power for more than a hundred homes. No one has been reported missing or injured.

Anchorage public works official Mark Littlefield says the avalanche hit Hiland Road at around 11 p.m. Thursday night. 

Police first responded to the avalanche at around 1:15 this morning, where the avalanche was initially estimated at around 40 feet deep. Littlefield says it’s now estimated to be deeper.

“Right now we’ve got some hundred, close to 100 homes that are stranded without power,” Littlefield said. “We’re looking at an avalanche that’s somewhere between 60 and 80 feet deep and 300 to 400 feet wide.”

As of 11 a.m. Friday morning, Anchorage police reported no homes had been hit by the avalanche, and there are no reports of people trapped. Officials say homes in the area may have limited access to utilities.

According to Matanuska Electric Association, about 145 homes in the Hiland Road area are without power. The avalanche took down a power line and damaged two poles. Officials say their crews were not able to work on the issues this morning because it was deemed unsafe. 

Wendy Wagner is the director of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center. She says heavy weather and an unstable snowpack were the likely causes of the avalanche. The area near Hiland Road in the South Fork Valley has seen a strong storm system coming from the Prince William Sound, which brought heavy winds.

“There have been several people that have written in talking about weaker layers buried in the snowpack,” Wagner said. “And so when you get a big storm creating a lot of wind and a lot of wind loading into a bowl, that can tip the balance and create an unstable situation.”

While the storms are set to subside this weekend, Wagner advises people to stay away from the avalanche area for the next few days. And police advise against using a snowmachine in the area, as the snow may be unstable. 

The police are working with Anchorage Fire Department, Mat-Su Search and Rescue and state Department of Transportation officials to address the avalanche. Police say it could take several days to clear the snow.

The National Weather Service has issued an avalanche warning for the Girdwood, Turnagain Arm and Seward areas through Saturday at 6 a.m.

This story has been updated.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.