Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN
Summary: 3 houses destroyed, 3 persons hit, 1 killed
UPDATE FROM Alaska Mountain Safety Center 01/30/00
3 houses and 2 warehouses completely destroyed, 2 houses damaged. 3 people hit -- 1 killed, 1 completely buried but recovered alive with some injuries, 1 unhurt.
Official Report to posted at a later date.
*******THIS ARTICLE AND ADDITIONAL IMAGES CAN BE FOUND AT THE WWW.ADN.COM WEBSITE***********
Thursday, January 27, 2000
Rescuers save Cordova man after
Slide strikes homes, killing woman, 63
By LIZ RUSKIN, PETER PORCO and NATALIE
Daily News reporters
CORDOVA - Five hours after an
avalanche roared down a Cordova
slope, destroying four houses and
killing a woman, dozens of rescuers
were still digging Wednesday
afternoon through the debris covering
the home of Jerry LeMaster.
It had been two hours since the body of LeMaster's companion, Martha
Quales, had been pulled out. LeMaster was still missing.
LeMaster was a member of the volunteer fire department, so rescuers
tried paging him to make his beeper sound. Every so often they'd order all
cell phones, radios and backhoe engines silenced so they could listen.
They were holding another paging test at 2:55 p.m. when they first heard
"He's yelling! He's here!" a rescuer called out from the bottom of a pit.
"He's five feet below where I'm standing," another said.
Shouts of joy erupted among the dozens of rescuers. They began digging
into the snow and pulling away scraps of the house with renewed energy.
"Slow it down!" avalanche specialist Jill Fredston cautioned. "Go in from
the side. Think about the air space as you pull out the beams."
Where the two-story home had stood was now a 15-foot layer of dense
snow, shattered house remnants, spruce tree branches and countless
personal items - shoes, a compact disc, a laundry basket, a candle holder.
After about a half-hour of digging in the pit, they could see LeMaster
through a small opening.
The 50-year-old flooring contractor had been in a back room. He lay
face up, his legs tangled in parts of the walls. The furnace was by his side,
supporting a blue interior door, which in turn held up a beam. The jumble
created the air space that kept him alive. The bottom of the door,
however, was pressing on LeMaster's chest and abdomen.
A paramedic looked into the hole.
"He's got movement. He can move his hands and legs," she said.
LeMaster was fully dressed, wearing a jacket with the hood pulled
around his head, as if he had been preparing to go outside.
The diggers carefully moved plywood and lumber and snow to enlarge the
Nearly an hour after they first heard him, rescuers carefully lifted a water
heater off the blue door, not knowing whether the debris pile would fall in
on LeMaster. It held. Now they were down to the blue door.
LeMaster was fading.
A paramedic who had crawled into the hole called for heat packs. She
asked that oxygen be made ready.
"Jerry, talk to me!" she said.
Rescuers called for a chain saw, and a man sawed off the lower corner of
the door. Paramedics had advised that LeMaster be removed gently from
the hole, but suddenly LeMaster stopped breathing, and rescuers did not
hesitate to pull him straight out.
His face was purplish-blue and his eyes were closed. Paramedics applied
oxygen and a man gave strong compression thrusts to his chest.
He had been buried for nearly six hours.
"Hang in there, Jerry!" rescuers yelled. "You can do it, Jerry!"
Moments later, he was in an ambulance headed for the hospital five miles
away. Paramedics had restarted his breathing.
The 9:50 a.m. avalanche destroyed four homes and a warehouse along
the Copper River Highway at Mile 5.5. It pushed several buildings 20 to
30 feet off their foundations.
The body of 63-year-old Quales was found about 12:30 p.m. amid the
debris of their living room.
"She was in her easy chair," said volunteer rescuer Michael O'Leary.
Quales, mother of three daughters and a son, moved to Cordova from
West Virginia in 1980 and had worked a number of jobs around town,
most recently at the Moose Lodge, said daughter Lee Quales of
"One minute everything was fine, the next minute there was an avalanche
and they were the only two not accounted for," said Lee Quales, who
was at the hospital when LeMaster was brought in.
LeMaster was airlifted to Providence Alaska Medical Center. He was
being treated there late Wednesday for hypothermia and a possible
broken arm, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Michael Patterson said.
Lee Quales' mother and LeMaster had been partners for more than 20
years, she said. They had been living in the house for 10.
A man escaped uninjured from a neighboring house that was flattened by
the slide, said Cordova Mayor Edward Zeine. No one was home at the
two other demolished houses, he said.
The avalanche also destroyed a construction company warehouse,
throwing it across a road. It damaged to about eight other homes.
Cordova, a Prince William Sound community of 2,500, has been
pounded with heavy, wet snow this week.
"I've been here 12 years and I have never seen anything like it," said Kelly
Weaverling, owner of Orca Book and Sound in downtown Cordova.
"The snow is extremely heavy. It is a little like shoveling mud."
The snow has downed trees and power lines, interrupting electrical
service since Monday.
"We'll go down and repair a section of line, and then a tree will come
down and take it out again," said Ken Gates, general manager of
Cordova Electric Cooperative. The avalanche wiped out four electrical
poles, and he estimated 250 people will be without power until Saturday.
Avalanches have struck before around Mile 5.5 but none so
catastrophically, said O'Leary, a backcountry skier who grew up in
Cordova and is the son of an avalanche forecaster.
In 1971, a series of avalanches buried a dog and knocked a woman off
her feet, he said. And about three years ago a slide damaged the roof and
side of the Elmer Gunnerson home, one of the four destroyed
Wednesday, the mayor said.
In April last year, heavy-equipment operator Gary Stone died in an
avalanche in a steep canyon north of the city, a few miles from
Wednesday's slide. Stone was running a backhoe as part of the
construction of a hydroelectric power plant when the slope gave way.
Fredston, of Anchorage, has helped recover the bodies of more than 30
avalanche victims, she said. This was the first time in her avalanche rescue
work that a buried victim was pulled out alive.
* Reporters Liz Ruskin, Peter Porco and Natalie Phillips can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.