Haines residents living below Mt. Ripinsky prepare to evacuate as rain continues to fall

Tables filled with emergency clothes and supplies in a low-ceilinged room
The American Legion has become a hub for evacuees to gather clothes and supplies, find access to accommodation and learn about the ongoing emergency. (Henry Leasia/KHNS)

Since last Wednesday, severe flooding and destructive mudslides have plagued the Haines Borough.

More than 50 families have evacuated from their homes, and with no sign of the weather improving, the Borough is warning even more residents to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.

Over the weekend, residents living beneath Mt. Ripinsky between Piedad Road and Picture Point were told to pack essentials and be ready to leave their homes quickly. The area that got that warning late Saturday night is one of the most densely populated areas of Haines.

Interim Haines Borough Manager Alekka Fullerton says there are some alarming signs that the town could see more flooding and mudslides.

“The way the weather forecast developed it was mimicking what happened on Wednesday, we had the layer of snow and then rain coming in, which makes it very heavy. We made the call that we wanted to make sure that people were prepared. We did not call for an evacuation, we did ask people to pack a bag, should the need arise.”

State geoscientists who surveyed the mountainside where the evacuation-warning was issued are concerned about high groundwater pressure and heavy precipitation.

Local hotels are filled with displaced residents and emergency response staff from out of town. The Haines Borough has now offered the local school as a space to house evacuees if necessary.

Haines resident Janet Hayes lives off of Piedad Road. A few days ago she and her husband decided to leave their home.

“We were like, ‘No, we’re fine.’ Then we got a couple of texts from friends and a couple of phone calls, and then the police were coming door to door and telling people it would be prudent to leave,” Hayes said. “We thought, ‘Well, after so many warnings maybe we should just be safe and leave.’”

Hayes, her husband and her cat moved into La Loft, a boutique used clothing store that she owns on Main Street.

Considering all that has happened in the past week, Hayes said she is very fortunate. The situation is difficult to wrap her head around.

“It’s mind-boggling. It kind of keeps feeling like a dream, like it’s not real and I’ll wake up pretty soon. It’s kind of hard to absorb everything. I think just taking it one day at a time and doing things like kicking your diet and eating cookies is okay right now, which is exactly what we’ve been doing,” Hayes said while chuckling.

Nancy Nash lives near the waterfront close to the center of town. So far her home has not been affected by the past week of severe weather.

“We feel that in some ways we’re in one of the safer portions of town because Mt. Ripinsky is a distance away,” Nash said.

She hasn’t left her home, but she started making preparations Saturday evening, just as the borough recommended.

“We have two cats, but we only have one cat carrier, so we were going to squish them in if we had to go. Extra glasses and everything. We put them in bags where we could. We left a light on down here. We have all our rain gear, headlamps. Everything we could think of in a small space, and then just went to bed,” Nash said.

It’s still raining, and a flash flood warning for Haines has been extended through Tuesday evening.

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