Around Southeast Alaska, communities assess damage from record-breaking storm

A storm-damaged foot bridge over a river in Tenakee Springs.
Two panels broke on the suspension bridge over Indian River, which connects some residents to the town of Tenakee Springs. It’s one of two bridges that was damaged in Tenakee during a powerful wind and rain storm that swept through the region on Tuesday. (Nicole Pegues)

Communities around Southeast Alaska are assessing damage from a powerful storm that brought record-breaking rain and heavy wind to the region.

Sitka broke a record for rainfall on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. Nearly 5 inches of rain fell over the last two days, but no lasting power outages, landslides or major flooding have been reported in the community.

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In the Chichagof Island town of Tenakee Springs, two bridges washed out, along with parts of the town’s trail. Resident Gordon Chew was part of a clean-up crew already at work early Wednesday morning cutting up spruce trees as big as 30 inches in diameter.

“We’ve been out all morning here with the tide coming in because the entire beach in front of all our houses is literally just littered with debris that’s come down out of the rivers,” Chew said.

The National Weather Service doesn’t collect consistent data in Tenakee Springs, but a gauge on the mountain behind town recorded over 5 inches of rainfall in 24 hours. It’s a rare event, one that statistics predict only every 25 years or so.

“Never seen anything like this before in the almost 20 years we’ve been here,” Chew said. “You know, occasionally logs come out the rivers and do wash in front of town. And people are really quick to take care of them because they can really damage the underpinnings of the waterfront homes.”

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Forty miles across the island, Pelican reported power and phone outages from fallen trees, but no major flooding damage. The town received almost a foot of rain in 48 hours. Up the coast in Yakutat, wind gusts up to 63 mph over the last few days toppled trees, leading to six power outages. Yakutat’s chief of police said it’s the kind of event he’s used to seeing once or twice a year, not three times in one week.

Other communities like Haines and Juneau sustained heavier damage from the record-breaking storm. The National Weather Service expects the storm front to finally start moving out of the region Wednesday evening.

Erin McKinstry is a Report for America reporter.