Weather closes Seward Highway

Peninsula cut off from Anchorage; roads expected to reopen by noon

Posted: Friday, February 10, 2006

Avalanches and whiteout blizzard conditions closed portions of the Seward and Sterling highways Thursday, cutting the Kenai Peninsula off from Anchorage.

One avalanche, which occurred at Mile 33 near Moose Pass, blocked traffic on the highway with a 40-foot-wide, 13- to 18-foot-tall wall of snow.

One vehicle was caught in the avalanche, but both occupants were rescued and no injuries were reported.

Another avalanche dumped snow on the highway at Mile 84, along Turnagain Arm before Girdwood.

In addition, the Sterling Highway was closed from Mile 61, on the Sterling side of Cooper Landing, to the Seward Highway intersection because of heavy snow, whiteout conditions and avalanche control work.

A driving alert also was posted at the Sterling Weigh Station, Mile 82.8, warning of heavy snow, strong winds, ice and packed snow.

As of early Thursday afternoon authorities had not reported any major accidents due to the hazardous road conditions, but did report many minor accidents and vehicles in the ditch, said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman for Alaska State Troopers.

Closures are expected to last almost 24 hours.

“We expect to have the highway reopened by noon tomorrow,” said Jack Fullerton of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on Thursday. “Our crews are fighting extreme weather conditions in the higher elevations. We’ll only reopen the highway when it is safe to do so.”

Troopers were patrolling the highway and the Turnagain Pass area looking for others who may be trapped in the Mile 84 avalanche or have disabled vehicles.

The prevailing weather conditions — including 2 feet of snow at Mile 12 of the Seward Highway— increase the possibility of further avalanches, officials said.

Portage and Whittier residents will be allowed travel past Girdwood, but no further traffic will be allowed.

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