Lutak Road was closed this morning after a large landslide blocked both lanes. No one was injured in the episode. But one Lutak resident says his morning commute was a little scarier than he bargained for.
Brad Martin was on his way to work in the dark just before 7 a.m. trying to stay in his own lane in the slushy conditions. He saw what he thought was a giant pile of snow in the middle of the road.
“Before it dawned on me what it was, I said ‘but that looks like a tree,’ ” Martin recalls. “About that time, I tried to slow down and hit a slick spot on the road and slid for about 25 feet and plowed right into the side of the big monster mountain of trees, so that kind of jarred me and threw everything off the seat.”
Martin ran smack dab into the landslide that blocked Lutak Road for several hours.
The pile of trees, rocks and earth was 15 feet deep and 100 feet, according to the Department of Transportation. It happened a couple of miles passed the ferry terminal, about six miles from town.
A DOT crew had the road cleared within five hours and, according to the Haines Borough Police Department, no injuries were reported. Martin says for him, it was a close call.
“It was very disturbing, and it startled me extremely. Once the truck stopped, I said ‘Oh, ok, great I hope I didn’t get a tree through the radiator.’”
He backed his truck up, picked some tree limbs out of his grill and fender wells, grabbed his headlamp and climbed up onto the pile of debris to assess the situation. It’s a move he now realizes was extremely dangerous.
“I looked up and said ‘this is the whole top of the mountain that came down.’”
He says he saw about 20 or 30 trees small and large, up to 16 inches in diameter, scattered around in the mud and rock, all the way down to the beach.
He says once he realized the severity of the slide, he made his way to back to his truck just as another mudslide cut loose.
“And then smaller slides started near the cracked rock and I said ‘Well, this is a bad, I’m just getting out of here.’ I was still rattled so I backed up about 100 yards, turned around and high-tailed it back here to the Folta’s to give word to the police and the state troopers that they need to get someone out here really quick before someone on the town side drives into it like I did and gets hurt.”
Martin says if he had been there just a little earlier, he would have been caught in the middle of it. Once he reached a phone, he also called around to residents to warn them of the situation.
“In my determination, it’s still unstable. I have to go to work tomorrow, but I’m going to be real cautious going through that area. With the rain that we’re getting, either side of the gully could give ‘way itself because it’s been compromised way up top.”
Matt Boron is the local maintenance foreman for DOT. He says they discovered the slide at around 7 a.m. and got to work clearing debris at around 9 a.m.
“It was a pretty good size, it wasn’t really difficult but it took us a little bit of time because we’re all geared up for winter,” Boron said. “So to switch back to mud, we had to get the other equipment. Usually we have to deal with this stuff in September and October, not December. We didn’t find anything buried in there, thankfully, and we’re all OK, so, yeah, thankful for that.”
Boron and another DOT crew member peeled away at the layers of earth, rocks and trees with heavy equipment, while the other two local employees were working to keep snow and ice at bay on the Haines Highway.
“Just be careful going out that way and I’m sure all the slopes are unstable, so just keep your eye out.”
Boron adds that he’s not as concerned about slides out the Haines Highway because it’s snowing on those slopes, though drivers should still use caution.