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Governor issues state disaster declaration for Southeast storm

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 1:36 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2022 at 5:44 PM AKST
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YAKUTAT, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a state disaster declaration Thursday after a series of storms dumped one to six feet of snow in areas of Southeast Alaska, with communities like Yakutat seeing building damage due to heavy snow.

A wintry mix of snow and rain caused roofs to collapse in Yakutat, according to the Alaska National Guard, necessitating a call for the guard to fly out to the coastal community that is off the road system on Wednesday. A local disaster declaration was issued by Yakutat Mayor Cindy Bremner and Manager Jon Erickson, asking for assistance from the State Emergency Operations Center in a letter which detailing the damages in the community.

In the press release, Gov. Dunleavy stated that swift action will be used in assisting Southeast communities after heavy snowfall inundated the area between Jan. 8 and Jan. 11, and said that the National Guard will help in clearing the heavy loads of snow and ice to prevent building damage and leaking facilities, damaged from the weight of snow.

The state disaster declaration applies to Yakutat, the City and Borough of Juneau, the Haines Borough and the Municipality of Skagway.

“Many Alaskan communities have struggled this winter as we experience some of the most challenging weather in (a) long time,” Dunleavy wrote in the release. “Alaskans are tough, and together we will overcome.”

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch Thursday morning for areas between Cape Suckling and Cape Fairweather on the Gulf of Alaska coast, stating that communities like Yakutat could see “critical levels” of flooding in local rivers from the snowmelt, including up to 1.5 inches, through Thursday night.

Juneau was also hit with heavy snowfall this week, causing the roofs of two commercial buildings to collapse and school to be closed for several days. All Juneau schools except for one reopened on Thursday, and according to the Juneau School District, the return went smoothly.

“Overnight, CBJ crews sanded school parking lots, driveways and access roads,” school district Chief of Staff Kristin Bartlett said in an email. “This morning school grounds were significantly improved, allowing students, employees and families safe passage to walk and drive to class.”

Riverbend Elementary School remains closed to students after a pipe burst and caused flooding damage to the school. Bartlett said that inspections revealed extensive water damage and that Riverbend students will not have in person school until at least Jan. 19. An update will be sent to families on Jan. 17.

“The district was notified that clean up and repairs will take several weeks. Tomorrow staff members will pack up classrooms to prepare for construction crews. Flooring, carpet and drywall need to be removed and replaced in most of the school. Plans are underway for alternative methods of instruction, including possible alternative locations,” Bartlett wrote.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that it was a series of storms that deposited snow on Southeast Alaska, rather than one storm.

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