Dozens of cars are still stuck behind Seward landslide as road clearing begins

Excavators remove debris from a landslide that blocked access from Seward to Lowell Point. (James Unrein)

Excavators worked throughout the day Monday to start clearing the spruce trees, mud and boulders that tumbled down the hillside on Saturday, blocking Lowell Point’s only road access to Seward. 

The large landslide left stranded tourists with tough choices and forced local Alaskans to figure out how to salvage their weekend getaways as business operators scrambled to accommodate them.

“It’s a massive impact financially,” said Chance Miller, owner of Miller’s Landing in Lowell Point. “And that’s just for right now.”

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Miller’s business includes a campground, RV park and kayak rentals. And, until the landslide is cleared, there’s no way to get to it except by boat. Miller said his business set up a water taxi system to Seward within a few hours of the slide, which hit around 7:45 p.m. Saturday.

Related: The important role of water taxis in Alaska

It’s charging $25 each way. But, this weekend, it shuttled stranded customers back to Seward for free, eating into its overhead costs. 

Seward city officials said it could take at least two weeks to reopen the narrow road to Lowell Point. A contractor for the city started clearing debris on Monday after the city decided there was no immediate risk of another large slide, said Seward City Clerk Brenda Ballou.

Ballou said the excavators worked “gingerly” to remove the 300-foot pile of trees, dirt and boulders from the road, which hugs the side of the mountains next to Resurrection Bay. 

“They’re scooping earth, moving it, pushing it off,” she said from the road on Monday afternoon. “They’re trying to create a solid ramp access so that other equipment will be able to get up and they can mitigate some of the debris that’s above them.”

Kipp Wilkinson celebrated his 29th birthday in Lowell Point with a smaller group than expected after some of his friends got stuck in Seward when a landslide blocked the only road to Lowell Point (Kipp Wilkinson)

Meantime, about 40 cars are stuck on the other side of the slide in the Lowell Point area. That includes a couple that were part of a planned birthday celebration for 29-year-old Kipp Wilkinson. 

After a day of fishing, around 7 p.m. Saturday, Wilkinson drove from Seward to Lowell Point to set up for the party. He made it past the slide area just in time. 

“There were a couple boulders there that we drove past and then about 30 minutes later we got a call from our friends and said they weren’t going to make it,” he said. 

They made the best of it that night.

“We had such a good time. We had all the beer. We had all the fresh fish. The only thing we didn’t have was tartar sauce,” he said. 

Wilkinson said he took a water taxi to Seward on Sunday afternoon and hitched a ride back to Anchorage, where he lives.

Businesses operators, like Lynda Paquette who runs cabins for Angels Rest in Lowell Point, said out-of-state tourists also had to adapt quickly. One visiting family had to figure out a way to catch their flight the next day in Anchorage, said Paquette. 

“They have abandoned their rental car here and checked out and then took the water taxi,” she said. Then, they spent hundreds of dollars on a taxi to drive them to Anchorage.

A landslide crosses a road with people in yellow vests standing in front
Inspectors look at the Lowell Point landslide. (James Unrein)

Paquette said some visitors who had stays booked for the next few days or weeks embraced the adventure of an extra water taxi ride. But others weren’t so happy and demanded refunds. 

She said the landslide obstacle is another blow for the business after three tough years, beginning with large wildfires in 2019, and then the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’m feeling more tired than resilient at this point,” she said. 

Business owners say landslides are nothing new to the area, but they usually happen after heavy rains. This slide came seemingly without warning, except for a smaller slide that fell earlier in the day Saturday. 

Scientists are trying to figure out the cause. 

“The current thinking is just that with all the snowfall that we’ve had over the winter, and then over the last few days, the temperatures got very, very warm, and there’s a lot of snowmelt that’s gone on,” said De Anne Stevens, chief of the state’s geological engineering section. 

Stevens, who is based in Fairbanks, has been analyzing photos of the slide and talking to scientists on the ground. She said there’s no immediate threat of another large slide.

But, she said, unfortunately for business owners — and recreators — landslides might happen more often in the area in the coming decades due to climate change.

“It’ll probably be a similar situation to what we’re seeing over a lot of parts of Alaska, where landslides are likely to occur, perhaps more frequently, largely, again, due to precipitation and warmer temperatures,” she said. 

A landslide as seen from above cutting through spruce trees
(City of Seward)

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Lex Treinen is covering the state Legislature for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at

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