Collapsed bridge causes accidents

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2002

The downpour that greeted the Kenai Peninsula last week left varying degrees of mayhem and damage in its path, from injury to home and property damage. Saturday, peninsula residents found themselves still picking up the pieces and counting their blessings.

When heavy rains washed out the bridge over Deep Creek early Thursday morning, it happened without warning -- and while traffic was still moving across it.

As a result of the missing road, two Ninilchik residents were injured around 7 that morning, and two vehicles were damaged.

But Tammy Self said the accident could have been avoided.

"That accident was totally preventable," Self said. "The state screwed up. They should've been watching that bridge."

She said she and her daughter, Alicia, were on their way to volleyball practice at Ninilchik High School when their car came upon the five-foot gap the rushing waters had created in the bridge. Both suffered cuts and bruises.

Self said calls had gone out to Alaska State Troopers in Soldotna earlier in the morning, warning there might be some danger on the bridge. But she said she saw no evidence of trooper response.

Christy Abney of Ninilchik said she made one of those calls.

"I called 911 at 3:15 a.m.," Abney said, "because there was like six inches or more of water coming over the bridge. I told (the operator) two or three times that somebody was going to get hurt here. I just left it to them. I thought they were going to reply."

As of the Clarion's press time, troopers had not returned calls to deny or confirm whether any reports were called in.

Mary Clock was in the first car that encountered the gap in the road. She said she was traveling just ahead of Self at about 45 mph, the speed limit, when she hit the opening.

"It looked like a little dip there," Clock said. "We just hit it and shot across it. We must have hit the far side of pavement and bounced maybe 50 feet before we stopped."

She said all of her tires were flat, and the wheels were dented. She put on her hazard lights because she knew there was another car behind her.

"I was going the speed limit, but I slowed down because it appeared that (Clock) had pulled over to the side of the road," Self said. "I tried to slow down anyway because I thought there might be water on the bridge."

Clock said Self's decrease in speed hurt the car's chances of crossing the gap.

"The next thing I knew, we hit a concrete wall and bounced up on the next side," Self said. "The next thing I know, there was an air bag in my face."

Self said she and her daughter were wearing seat belts. Both were airlifted across the bridge by a helicopter and taken by ambulance to Central Peninsula General Hospital. Self was treated for a bruised chest plate, and her daughter was treated for a bruised back. Both were released.

"I can't even comb my own hair," Self said.

She said she was disappointed that news reports implied the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities had the situation under control when it took her accident to generate a response.

"I'm pretty mad at the news reports that says that DOT was right on top of it," she said. "They were right on top of it because of my crash."

In other areas of the peninsula, residents experienced less damage, compared to flooding from seven years earlier.

A dozen residents who live in the Kenai Keys subdivision at the water's edge just east of Sterling, continued to keep a vigilant eye toward the Kenai River on Saturday as flood waters just barely showed signs of receding.

The Kenai River was up three to four feet, according to the mostly retired homeowners, including Eldon and Mary Brandt. Water was running under the deck of their mobile home.

"We had mostly road and driveway damage," Mary Brandt said. "The water didn't come into our home.

"It's not like the last time when it came into the house and damaged our carpet and some other things," she said, referring to a flood in 1995, when most of the roads in the riverside subdivision were under water.

The Brandts, who have lived in Kenai Keys for 20 years, were asked by Kenai Peninsula Borough rescue workers to leave their home during the heavy rains Wednesday afternoon. They stayed with friends a few miles away, uphill from the rising river.

Lee Riley is a retired electrician who has lived with his wife, Vi, in the Keys since 1972. Using the eight-inch cinder blocks of his garage's foundation as a measure, he estimated the river water had come up more than 32 inches, flooding his garage and damaging tools inside. He said the river went down a foot by Friday but had come back up about two inches Saturday morning.

Tom Vogel, owner of Peninsula Furs and Tom's Gunshop in Sterling, said his businesses were in little danger from rising waters.

"I had to rescue a picnic table from down by the river," he said. "But it never threatened my shop or the furs. I'm too high."

He said he didn't see the amount of debris he saw in the last big flood seven years ago, but joked that what he has seen has provided him with new business options.

"I have picked up a few decoys," he said. "A couple of ducks and one goose. I'm in the salvage business, now."

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