Wind storm rips through 6.5 Mile community

95 mph wind gusts blowing down Eyak River fell dozens of trees, hammer homes

A fierce, northwesterly wind storm wreaked havoc at the 6.5 Mile Copper River Highway community on Eyak River outside of Cordova on Jan. 6, as wind gusts to 95 mph toppled nearly 100 trees and damaged homes, outbuildings and motor vehicles on residents’ properties.

A high wind warning issued by the National Weather Service was in effect from 4 a.m. Jan. 6, through 9 a.m. Jan. 7 for Southeast Prince William Sound, Cordova, and the Copper River Delta.

Numerous home in the 6.5 Mile area had significant property damage.

Cordova Public Works Superintendent Bill Howard, who lives in the 6.5 Mile community, spent the day helping city workers remove trees blocking roads and otherwise causing hazards.

“Thursday evening through Friday, we had a wind come out of the north, which happens once every few years. This was the hardest I’ve seen it gust, however,” Howard said.

“Somewhere around 100 trees in the 6- to 7-Mile Copper River Highway (area) were either blown over, or snapped off above ground,” Howard said.

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“The trees in this area have a shallow root system, because of the ground temperature, high water table, and the gravel and sandy surface. The roots are typically grown out more on the north side, as the prevailing winds come from the southeast. When the wind comes from the north, we have historically lost a few trees,” he said.

This time they lost more than a few.

“Trees landed on the roof on the Hicks’ home,” Howard said. “A shed was damaged on the property across from Mike Smith’s. The Pettit’s home (has trees on it). A pickup truck in Joan Songer’s drive was damaged. Trudy Lahn’s shop, Steve Copeland’s house has a tree on it. A tree went through the roof of Bill Bailey’s home. There’s trees leaning on Roy Wilson’s warehouse, and on Shawn Stimson’s home. A shed at Buehrle’s, and maybe a few others were damaged. The fabric covered boat repair shelter at Peterson’s Welding was destroyed, too,” Howard said.

Area residents, volunteers and construction crews showed up with chain saws and heavy equipment to clear trees, and the resultant debris.

“The good news is no electric or telephone lines were damaged,” said Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin, another 6.5 Mile home owner. Ten trees fell in the Koplin’s yard but missed their home.

While Cordova has experienced high winds numerous times in the past, the magnitude of damage from this storm was a first, Koplin said.

“The northwest wind is one that channels down the Eyak River, sometimes blowing as hard as three times as much as it blows in other parts of town. This event has affected about 100 or more of our residents, with early damage estimates to be somewhere between $500,000 to $1 million, based on the damages to multiple homes and vehicles,” Koplin said.

“One thing that Cordova has come to appreciate, almost to the point of taking for granted, is what doesn’t happen during these kind of events: extended power outages. Instead of a line crew having to work through the storm to repair and replace multiple power lines well into (the weekend), the lights are on and telephones are working. The less positive news is that roads have been blocked off, off and on during the day, by fallen trees, and homes and vehicles have been struck and damaged,” Koplin said.

Falling trees demolished Jessica Hochberg Klix’s trailer, which was unoccupied at the time.

Hochberg Klix said her family had planned to sell the trailer to recoup some of the money they’d previously invested in it, as they are buying a new home.

“We had four (trees) fall around us about the same time. It was dark. We weren’t in it, thank God … Now, we are just going to salvage the wood and then try to sell it,” Hochberg Klix said.

The Baileys were in their winter home in Oregon, but their granddaughter, Brandyn Comparan, lives in an apartment on the Bailey’s property.

Comparan said she was aware that the wind was howling through the night on Jan. 5, and woke up to an especially loud gust about 8:30 a.m., Jan. 6.

She saw a huge tree fall onto the roof of her grandparent’s home. Upon later inspection, she saw that the tree’s branches had punctured the roof, going straight down into the bathroom and into one of the bedrooms.

Jet service into Cordova was compromised that day, too, due to the high winds.

Alaska Airlines’ scheduled daily stop into Cordova usually arrives about 12:53 p.m.

Alaska Airlines confirmed that their pilot decided against landing here due to severe turbulence.

“Flight 61 was flying from Yakutat to Cordova, and then on to Anchorage. Due to winds on approach, the flight did not land in Cordova as planned, but flew on to Anchorage. There were 10 passengers on board and they were re-accommodated on a flight out of Anchorage to Cordova (later),” said Ann Zaninovich, Alaska Airlines’ media relations manager, reached by phone and email later that night.

The Alaska Marine Highway’s ferry, the Fairweather, also cancelled their scheduled sailing Jan. 6, due to high winds and high seas in Prince William Sound.

“The highest peak wind recorded at the airport by 2 p.m. Friday, was 41 mph at 10:27 a.m.,” Janet Johnson, an observer at the Cordova Weather Station at Mile 13 Mudhole Smith Airport.

Historically, weather conditions reported at the Mile 13 airport can vary greatly from weather conditions at 6.5 Mile, as well as in Cordova’s town proper.

A massive tree located between the Mile 6.5 homes of Roy and Kristi Wilson’s and Shawn and Penny Stimson, was leaning precariously toward Stimson’s house on Jan. 6.

“We didn’t sleep very well that night, concerned that the big tree leaning toward the house could fall at any time,” Shawn Stimson said. “It was in line to take out the corner of our bedroom. We did have three trees fall onto our shed, but it held tough, although other trees were knocked down by the wind and blocked our driveway. A big tree also fell on the 30-foot, blow-up Santa decoration in our yard. Santa is no more.”

“When you start adding up what it’ll cost to repair the damages done to people’s homes, the paid crews out here helping with the tree removal, and others hired to remove the trees still threatening to fall, it adds up. I bet we spent $2,000 or $3,000 just on Friday,” he said.

The home of Police Chief Mike Hicks, and his wife Gladah Hicks, just off the Copper River Highway at Mile 6.5, also was hit by several wind-toppled trees.

“We were lucky and thankful it wasn’t worse,” Gladah Hicks said. “Glad we have insurance. There are many others that had a lot worse damage out here, but no one was injured.”

“Cordova Fire Marshal Paul Trumblee and Cordova Police Department officer Derrickk Torgerson spent the better part of the day doing damage assessment in the area,” Mike Hicks said.

“The city crews did a great job working in the Mile 6.5 area, almost immediately clearing downed trees from the roadway,” the chief said.  “(Numerous) trees were either uprooted or snapped off. No one was injured, but several homes and a business received substantial damage.”

Hicks advised Cordova residents to be alert to other trees that may have had their root beds weakened by the storm, which could allow them to topple over later, in a lesser wind event.

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