4 found safe, 2 others still missing after major landslide in Haines

Search and rescue is looking for several missing people after a large landslide in Haines.
Search and rescue is looking for several missing people after a large landslide in Haines.(USCG Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexandria Preston)
Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 4:15 PM AKST
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HAINES, Alaska (KTUU) - Four people who were unaccounted for after a major landslide in Haines have been found safe, but two others are still missing as of Thursday morning.

Haines Mayor Douglas Olerud has confirmed the identities of the two people who are missing as David Simmons and Jenae Larson.

An update from Alaska State Troopers said rescue crews from Juneau have arrived in Haines and more are expected throughout the day.

Dozens of people were evacuated Wednesday after heavy rainfall caused multiple landslides in the area, according to the mayor.

“It started last night,” said Haines Mayor Douglas Olerud. “We’ve had significant rainfall on top of frozen ground and snow.”

There have been small landslides impacting individuals’ homes, according to Olerud, and Wednesday afternoon, a larger landslide went through a neighborhood in the Beach Road area, where the city is working to evacuate 30 residents.

“In our harbor, as you go to the south, southeast of town, there’s a road extending along the harbor in the bay that goes out to Battery Point Trail, and there’s some relatively steep terrain up above it [...] The slide that came down, they’re estimating is about 600 feet wide, and so there was people trapped on the other side of the slide,” said Olerud. “Those are the people we’re currently working on evacuating because they’re in an area with definitely steep terrain behind them that could also be a factor in potential future slides since part of it has already been unstable.”

Olerud estimated there are 20 homes in the area. An update from troopers Wednesday afternoon says four homes have been destroyed.

Olerud said search and rescue crews are in the area and commercial fishermen are using their personal boats to assist. However, the trooper update said that search and rescue efforts were suspended for the evening “due to rumbling unstable ground” but efforts will resume Thursday morning.

The pandemic adds an extra hurdle when it comes to finding places for people to stay, according to the mayor, but the city is using the Legion Hall and Presbyterian Church as staging areas for evacuees and is working with both the Captain’s Choice Motel and Aspen Hotel to find temporary housing for them.

Olerud has urged residents to stay inside and stay safe, to allow emergency personnel and road crews to do their work and to stay away from damaged areas.

“And then, anybody that’s living below steep terrain, we want them to do as best they can to judge the situation around their house,” he said. “If they feel it’s unstable, we’ll help them find housing. And then, anybody that obviously, if it does come down, call 911 and be prepared for evacuations at short notice if need be.”

“The Alaska Wildlife Trooper from Haines is on scene assisting with evacuating people utilizing the local AWT Vessel,” a trooper dispatch states. “Search and Rescue efforts are currently being coordinated. SEAdogs and JMR have been activated and efforts are being made to get a helicopter out of Juneau to transport the teams to Haines as the town is cutoff from the border and the airport.”

According to Alaska Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Lexie Preston, the Guard has sent cutters Liberty and Anacapa, a 45-foot response boat crew from Coast Guard Station Juneau, and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Sitka to provide emergency support.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the number of homes destroyed and people missing after multiple updates from troopers.

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