Residents of a small Alaska city choked off by a monster avalanche can rejoice: The sole highway in and out of town is no longer blocked and will reopen Wednesday, officials said.
Since a series of landslides on Jan. 24 and 25 sent debris crashing down onto the Richardson Highway into Valdez, cutting off the port city by car, crews have worked to clear the mass of debris.
And on Tuesday state transportation officials said the roadway had passed multiple stability tests that show it can handle traffic from both commercial and passenger vehicles. The 50-mile stretch of road will reopen at 3 p.m.
The news comes as a welcome surprise after city officials had earlier said they didn’t expect the road to reopen until Thursday at the earliest.
In order to open the rural two-lane highway, crews had to clear debris estimated at hundreds of feet long and up to 40 feet deep. They also had to contend with a chance of severe flooding from water that was pooling up behind the avalanche.
But that water was sufficiently draining underneath the huge snow dam, city officials said.
Avalanche experts say the unseasonably warm temperatures across Alaska this month contributed to the record landslide.
Residents, meanwhile, have had to rely on either a ferry or flight service if they wanted to get out of Valdez. Safeway, the only major grocery store in the city, has been shipping in barges of food to ensure the community wouldn’t be without essentials.
Getting fresh produce, however, has been tricky, residents say.
“It’s not a great time to get a salad,” Laurie Prax, who owns local radio station KVAK, told NBC News on Tuesday.
While having your town’s sole highway closed off might sound scary, Prax assures that it has been business as usual for most residents.
“If anything, you learn to plan ahead of time even more,” Prax said.