Avalanche expert says homes stand in slide zone

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2000

VALDEZ (AP) -- Nearly a dozen homes on a Valdez street stand within an avalanche zone and should be moved, according to an Anchorage-based avalanche expert hired to assess snowslide risk in the Prince William Sound community.

The homes on Porcupine Street are in area at high risk of avalanche, said Doug Fesler, director of Alaska Mountain Safety Center Inc.

''I know it's not an easy solution, but I really believe that in the long term, relocation is the best solution,'' Fesler said. ''If you don't relocate, what happens is that this problem keeps coming back like a bad penny.''

Fesler was hired by the city to conduct an avalanche assessment paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

His report places the 11 homes on the north side of Porcupine Street at least partially in the so-called ''Red Zone,'' defined as being subject to a significant avalanche at least once every 30 years.

''Roofs could be blown off or caved in, walls could be pushed in or sucked out, houses could be pushed from their foundations, windows and doors ripped off, sucked out, or pushed in,'' Fesler said in his report. ''People outside or inside of structures could be severely injured or killed.''

Several other houses on Porcupine Street are in a ''moderate'' avalanche hazard zone, according to Fesler's report.

Sue Smith, whose home on the north side of Porcupine Street was damaged by an avalanche on Feb. 7, said her family is leaving the street.

''To us it was just a message that we needed to go,'' Smith said. ''We couldn't put our family in that situation.''

The situation is less clear cut for other Porcupine Street residents. Debbie Gilson, whose family lives at the opposite end of the street from the Smiths, was surprised to find her home is partially in the Red Zone.

''We have a bench above us and we thought it was a pretty safe thing,'' she said.

One side of the Valdez High School gymnasium, built to withstand earthquakes, is also at high risk of being struck by an avalanche, Fesler said. He has recommended that structure be studied to make sure it is strong enough to withstand avalanche impact.

Fesler also called for a program of avalanche safety education for students in fourth through 12th grades.

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