Story last updated at 3:39 p.m. Thursday, October 31, 2002

Collapsed bridge causes accidents
Morris News Service-Alaska and Carey James
Homer News Staff Writer

photo: news

  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
This aerial photo taken Friday shows the damage to the bridge at DeepCreek. This was one of several trouble spots that cut Homer off from the rest of the peninsula.  
The downpour that greeted the Kenai Peninsula last week left varying degrees of mayhem and damage in its path, from injury to home and property damage. Saturday, peninsula residents found themselves still picking up the pieces and counting their blessings.

When heavy rains washed out the bridge over Deep Creek early on the morning of Oct. 24, it happened without warning -- and while traffic was still moving across it.

As a result of the missing road, two Ninilchik residents were injured around 7 that morning, and two vehicles were damaged.

But Tammy Self said the accident could have been avoided.

"That accident was totally preventable," Self said. "The state screwed up. They should've been watching that bridge."

She said she and her daughter, Alicia, were on their way to volleyball practice at Ninilchik High School when their car came upon the 5-foot gap the rushing waters had created in the bridge. Both suffered cuts and bruises.

Self said calls had gone out to Alaska State Troopers in Soldotna earlier in the morning, warning there might be some danger on the bridge. But she said she saw no evidence of trooper response.

Christy Abney of Ninilchik said she made one of those calls.

"I called 911 at 3:15 a.m.," Abney said, "because there was like 6 inches or more of water coming over the bridge. I told (the operator) two or three times that somebody was going to get hurt here. I just left it to them. I thought they were going to reply."

Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Jim Hibpshman said calls that came in telling of problems on the road were handled in the same way as all other calls -- they were referred to the Department of Transportation.

DOT's superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula District, Carl High, said crews tried to warn drivers where they could, but were also busy trying to save the roads.

"Everything was blowing up so fast," High said. "It was just bad luck and bad timing."

High said some people had placed large fish totes with a rope across them out on the road when water began to overflow the road in the middle of the night in an attempt to warn drivers, but someone had pushed those out of the way.

With the entire crew working on the road, Hibpshman said, it illuminates the fact that state cuts closed the Ninilchik DOT station earlier this year.

"There aren't any highway people left in Ninilchik," he said. "The bottom line is that when we needed them, there wasn't anybody there. They had every person out there, and they had people going as fast as they could."

Mary Clock was in the first car that encountered the gap in the road. She said she was traveling just ahead of Self at about 45 mph, the speed limit, when she hit the opening.

"It looked like a little dip there," Clock said. "We just hit it and shot across it. We must have hit the far side of pavement and bounced maybe 50 feet before we stopped."

She said all of her tires were flat, and the wheels were dented. She put on her hazard lights because she knew there was another car behind her.

"I was going the speed limit, but I slowed down because it appeared that (Clock) had pulled over to the side of the road," Self said. "I tried to slow down anyway because I thought there might be water on the bridge."

Clock said Self's decrease in speed hurt the car's chances of crossing the gap.

"The next thing I knew, we hit a concrete wall and bounced up on the next side," Self said. "The next thing I know, there was an airbag in my face."

Self said she and her daughter were wearing seat belts. Both were airlifted across the bridge by a helicopter and taken by ambulance to Central Peninsula General Hospital. Self was treated for a bruised chest plate, and her daughter was treated for a bruised back. Both were released.

"I can't even comb my own hair," Self said.

She said she was disappointed that news reports implied the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities had the situation under control when it took her accident to generate a response.

"I'm pretty mad at the news reports that says that DOT was right on top of it," she said. "They were right on top of it because of my crash."

Hibpshman said the accidents were unfortunate, but given the severity of the floods, everyone was doing the best they could.

"All the resources in the world can't stop the water that comes down," he said.

Carey James can be reached at