A series of winter storms bringing heavy snow, rain, ice and high winds to the peninsula have sparked emergency disaster declarations in the city of Seldovia and at the borough level.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough, through Mayor Charlie Pierce, declared an emergency disaster Friday, Dec. 6, after the city of Seldovia declared their own the same day due to power line damage and extended power outages caused by gale force winds.
The borough’s declaration cites several weather-related events that have caused damage across the entire peninsula. In Seldovia, high winds brought down trees and caused power outages across the city and in nearby villages, impacting backup generators, too.
In other parts of the peninsula, heavy snowfall around Dec. 2 left thousands of residents without power, primarily in Kenai and Nikiski.
Monday afternoon Homer Electric Association updated residents via their Facebook page. In Monday’s post, they said four crews are working on restoration and a crew is responding to outages from Homer. Their post said restoration efforts are taking time because of multiple trees on the lines. As of Monday evening, approximately 1,220 members in the Soldotna, Sterling and Funny River areas were waiting for their power to be restored. In their post, Homer Electric said there are reports of downed power lines and are urging residents stay away. Homer Electric is also urging residents to not cut trees off lines in case those lines are still live.
Residents without power or who want to report trees on lines or downed power lines can call 800-478-8551 to speak with a representative.
The declaration is also gearing up for an imminent threat of flooding on the eastern peninsula. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast heavy rains through Tuesday.
The heavy rains are expected to cause more power line damages and other property damage due to trees falling, freezing levels and slick conditions, according to the borough’s emergency declaration.
NOAA has two active warnings as of Monday afternoon, for high winds and flooding.
A flood advisory is in effect until about noon on Tuesday for the Anchor River and Anchor Point. Rainfall combined with snowmelt over the past 24 hours has resulted in significant rises in small streams and rivers on the Kenai Peninsula, the advisory said. The Anchor River at Anchor Point is expected to rise into minor flood stage Monday evening and flood the campground located downstream from the Sterling Highway Bridge. The Anchor River water levels are expected to remain elevated until Tuesday.
Along Turnagain Arm and in the pass, high winds from the east, with gusts up to 80 miles per hour were expected until about 6 p.m., the warning said. The high wind warning said the winds may move loose debris, damage property and cause power outages.
Borough Emergency Manager Dan Nelson gave borough residents an update on current storms through a YouTube video on Sunday. He said the peninsula is forecast to see high winds, rain and warmer temperatures.
“We’re expecting quite a bit of rain and we’ve already seen warmer temperatures that are certainly starting to cause some complications,” Nelson said in the video update.
Nelson said the borough’s incident management team is watching the eastern peninsula carefully, where heavy rains could cause drainage issues or localized flooding.
“We’re going to respond to those issues and try and take care of them before they become a larger issue later in the week as storm totals are expected to increase, but are still pretty much an unknown,” Nelson said in the video update.
With weather on the way, Nelson encourages residents to be prepared for potential power outages and to keep a cold weather car kit.
In Homer, flooding in the early afternoon from Bear Creek at Bear Creek Drive and East End Road pushed woody debris — including some large logs — across the road and down Meadow Drive, a side street. State officials put out a text alert that the road was shut down to one line with pilot cars. By nightfall the road had been cleared.
“It just flooded the whole road,” said Christie Hill, who lives on Meadow Drive. “It just took the driveway out.”
A large culvert under East End Road was overwhelmed, Hill said.
“The water must have rose 10 to 15 feet, from the bottom of the culvert to the top,” she said.
Seldovia declares emergency disaster
The storm system that moved through the peninsula on Nov. 27 with heavy rains and gale force winds caused a power outage in Seldovia and surrounding areas. Power poles broke and lines were damaged by falling trees, according to Seldovia’s disaster declaration.
“Treefall damage to power lines was so significant that the City of Seldovia and the surrounding area lost back up power generation on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 27, 2019 which continued into the following day, and multiple areas in the City of Seldovia and in the surrounding area outside of the city remained without power for over four days with some areas remaining without power for a total of six days,” the declaration said.
The nearby villages of Port Graham and Nanwalek also lost power Nov. 27, the declaration said.
Access to city infrastructure was also lost due to the high winds. Seldovia Airport was temporarily closed due to tree fall. As of Friday, access to city streets and the Susan B. English School playground and parking lot were limited because of felled trees. The Seldovia Small Boat Harbor and the Jakolof Bay Dock also sustained significant damage due to gale force winds and access between Seldovia and Jakolof Bay and its dock was lost due to the extreme tree fall of dozens of trees on Jakolof Bay Road, the declaration said.
Several private homes in Seldovia also sustained significant damage and loss due to falling trees.
The high winds also prompted the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to cancel service of the M/V Tustumena ferry on Sunday and Monday, impacting Homer, Seldovia, Port Lions, Ouzinki and Kodiak.
The city of Seldovia said the continuation of the imminent threat of upcoming weather systems, current damage and tree fall removal from the Nov. 27 storm system exceeds the resources and financial capabilities of the city.
The city’s declaration calls upon the borough and state for assistance in mitigating current damage and loss caused by the gale force winds and significant tree fall. The declaration also requests assistance in mitigating damage from imminent threat of upcoming weather systems.
On Monday afternoon, the Seward Highway was closed after two rock slides blocked the roadway. Rocks fell and blocked the northbound lane at Mile 111, near McHugh Creek and a second rock slide was reported around Mile 106.