Storm that hit Wrangell brought wider Southeast Alaska damage

a landslide
A landslide across the highway between Klawock and Craig on Prince of Wales Island on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Courtesy Clarence Peele)

The major storm that struck Wrangell on Monday night, triggering a landslide that left three people dead and three more missing, also caused other slides and damage across the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and Prince of Wales Island the same evening.

a flooded creek
Hydaburg Creek on Monday afternoon. (Courtesy of Clarence Peele)

The landslides in southern Southeast also affected the power grid, with many communities in the area reporting power outages. Parts of North Tongass Highway in Ketchikan were closed Monday due to a landslide in the Ward Cove area. Residents were without power for a few hours while Ketchikan Public Utilities assessed the damage.

Alaska Power & Telephone, a utility provider serving Prince of Wales Island, reported landslides in Hydaburg, Black Bear Lake, and between Craig and Klawock. A road was also washed out in Coffman Cove. AP&T officials said in a phone call that the Hydaburg landslide damaged power lines and the community was on a backup power supply. They said no major outages were reported in their service area.

Clarence Peele, a Hydaburg resident, says several power poles were snapped in half. 

Thorne Bay and Klawock residents reported power outages Monday afternoon. 

All ferries to and from Prince of Wales Island were canceled. 

A flash flood watch and a high wind warning were both in effect for the area until Monday evening. People were urged to secure vessels and loose objects that could be damaged by the winds, which were reported at up to 60 mph in the Ketchikan area.

Meanwhile, in northern Southeast, blowing snow caused blizzard conditions with schools dismissing early on Monday in Juneau and Haines.

a damaged telephone pole
A snapped telephone pole in Hydaburg. (Courtesy Theodore Peele)

The inclement weather also knocked out six U.S. Coast Guard rescue VHF towers. That means the Coast Guard might not be able to pick up calls for distress on VHF channel 16 in certain parts of Southern Southeast. 

Four towers — located on Zarembo, Gravina, Sukkwan, and Duke islands — are back up and running, but the Coast Guard hasn’t declared them fully capable yet. The towers on Mount McArthur and Mount Robert Baron are still out of commission.

Aaron Hankins, Petersburg’s director of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, is helping to coordinate the relief effort for the Wrangell landslide.

Hankins cautioned mariners in the region to avoid Sumner and Zimovia straits in order to clear the area for ongoing rescue operations. He said there’s also dangerous debris from the landslide floating in the water, which might not be immediately visible below the surface. That flotsam can damage or even sink small vessels.

Due to the potential gaps in coverage, the Coast Guard is relying on mariners and emergency responders in the region to notify them of mariners in need of help by calling 907-463-2980 if they hear an unanswered distress call on VHF channel 16.

Coast Guard Sector Southeast Alaska will post status updates on the disabled Southeast VHF radio towers online.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately identified Mount Robert Baron as Mount Robber Baron.

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