Flurry of rain triggers landslide in Anchorage apartment complex as wet weather deluges south-central Alaska

A landslide prompted evacuations at a West Anchorage apartment building on Thursday after a flurry of rainfall following weeks of wet and rainy weather.

The slope gave way behind North Star Elementary School on Thursday evening, sending a barrage of dirt on an apartment complex down the hill on Arctic Boulevard. Structural hazards displaced residents in 13 units, left one resident with minor injuries and buried at least one vehicle, according to Anchorage Fire Department Deputy Chief Alex Boyd.

A storm system this week brought heavy rain to much of south-central Alaska, including the brief but powerful burst of rain Thursday evening that hit parts of Anchorage, including the west side and Midtown. The storm is just the latest to inundate the city: Anchorage experienced one of wettest August months in recorded history.

About a half inch of rain fell over a four-hour period Thursday night near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Lawson said. Rainfall was variable: Rainfall totals in Anchorage ranged from about a quarter inch to nearly an inch during the 48 hours until Friday afternoon.

Downed lines repaired within hours led to several brief power outages in Anchorage Thursday night and several roads suffered minor flooding. The fire department was also receiving reports of basement flooding.

rain floods

Flood watches and warnings were in place Thursday and Friday elsewhere in south-central Alaska.

Cordoba saw the heaviest rainfall, Lawson said, with more than 11 inches reported in 48 hours in some areas. Portions of the Copper River Highway would have had water on the roadway, he said.

The West Anchorage Apartment Complex Landslide happened after months of continuous heavy rain that created a pool of water up to 2 feet deep in a field behind the school at the top of the hill, Boyd said. The water sitting on the saturated ground then flowed over an underground clay layer and rolled down the hill.

Firefighters arrived at the Ladera Villa Apartments just after 9 p.m. to a report of someone trapped in a room, Boyd said. This person left before the responders arrived, he said. They were treated for minor injuries.

Debris piled about 4 to 5 feet high on one corner of the building pushed into a several-foot interior wall, he said, and officials feared the building could collapse.

The landslide covered at least one parked vehicle, although up to three could have been buried, Boyd said.

The evacuated residents were placed in local hotel rooms overnight Thursday and received assistance from the Alaska Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Firefighters, police, nonprofits, public works officials and engineers all responded to the area Thursday evening to assess the scene and offer assistance, Boyd said. Heavy equipment crews and engineers arrived Friday to move the debris and assess the damage.

Ladera Villa, landslide, rain

Boyd said the building’s owner, Weidner Apartment Homes, hopes to allow residents to return home on Friday if the building is deemed safe. Otherwise, apartment building owners planned to house residents in vacant units at their other properties across the city, he said.

The company did not immediately respond to a message Friday afternoon.

This is Anchorage’s second landslide in the past week.

Authorities responded to a large slide near Oceanview Bluff Park on Sept. 3 that approached a home but caused no damage or injury, Boyd said, warning residents to watch for danger signs.

“With the amount of rain we have, these are concerning events,” he said. “And you have fast, swollen waterways. Be careful around waterways and be aware of indicators of ground instability, things like slip cracks like you would see on a (ski) track. We usually see them in winter, but it’s quite rare when they show up in your backyard.

The rain was expected to end Saturday in Anchorage, but precipitation was expected to return Sunday.

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