Alaska Highway closed north of Liard Hot Springs after road destroyed by washout

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A section of the Alaska Highway in northern B.C. was washed out on Friday evening, restricting access to the Yukon by vehicle.   (Yukon Highways and Public Works/ Twitter - image credit)
A section of the Alaska Highway in northern B.C. was washed out on Friday evening, restricting access to the Yukon by vehicle. (Yukon Highways and Public Works/ Twitter - image credit)

The Alaska Highway is closed to traffic in both directions roughly 125 kilometres north of the Liard Hot Springs, after a section of the road was destroyed by pooling water.

The Yukon government tweeted photos of the damage in an update on Friday evening.

The incident took place on the B.C. side of the border, between Liard Hot Springs and Watson Lake.

Kelson Willms said he was driving to the Liard Hot Springs when someone pulled him over and told him the highway was washed out.

"Five minutes up the road, it was basically gone," he said.

Willms, from Whitehorse, said the incident has thrown a "bit of a wrench" in his long weekend plans.

"But I'm sure it will mess up a lot travellers coming from B.C. and elsewhere," Willms said.

Road bed swept away by rushing water

Willms captured video of the situation which shows a section of the road completely washed out by running water.

"A lot of people that were pulling up the road were trying to like look off  the edge," he said.

"But it was actively slipping away, so we had to tell a lot of people to back off and make sure they weren't getting too close because basically the whole hillside was coming down in real time."

Willms said he could hear the trees snapping as the hillside came down.

This isn't the first time the road has been washed out. A series of washouts across the Yukon 10 years ago led to evacuations and bare store shelves. 

Andy Paulson, who lives in Whitehorse, said he remembers the incident in 2012.  One memory that sticks out was people panic buying groceries out of fear the stores wouldn't be able to remain stocked.

He was an employee at the Superstore at the time and remembers the company airlifting groceries to Whitehorse.

Paulson said he's noticed an uptick in people going to the grocery store since the road closure was announced.

"The customers were lined up at the doors this morning before it opened," he said.

Having experienced a road closure before, Paulson has one piece of advice for people who are finding themselves in this situation for the first time.

"Just pay attention to your situation and others around and avoid buying stuff you may not need for a couple of weeks so that others that do need it for their young families have that ability to get it," he said.

Drive B.C., a provincial road and traffic update website, said the damage is caused by water pooling between Fireside Maintenance Camp and Allen's Lookout, a scenic spot along the highway.

Krysten Johnson, a spokesperson for the Yukon Department of Highways and Public Works, said via email that, "while not ideal," highway 37, the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, remains open.

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