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Evacuated after the landslide: One Haines family shares their story

“I went, ‘Oh my God.’ There was a pile of downed trees over 20 feet high, about 90 yards from my property,” Dennis Franks said.
Damage caused by landslide in Haines.
Damage caused by landslide in Haines.(Dennis Franks (Custom credit) | Dennis Franks)
Published: Dec. 5, 2020 at 3:44 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On Wednesday afternoon, Dennis Franks was sitting in the wood room at his home on Beach Road outside of Haines when he heard a noise.

“I thought a helicopter was coming over the house. Then the power went out,” Franks said.

He left his home and walked out to the road.

“I went, ‘Oh my God.’ There was a pile of downed trees over 20 feet high, about 90 yards from my property,” he said.

Damage caused by landslide in Haines.
Damage caused by landslide in Haines.(Dennis Franks (Custom credit) | Dennis Franks)

Franks’ house is two lots down from the landslide that took out several of his neighbors’ homes.

His five children began calling and telling him to evacuate. Night was falling and he chose to stay. Franks said his wife Kathleen just had knee surgery and he was worried about walking down to the beach in the dark.

Damage caused by landslide in Haines.
Damage caused by landslide in Haines.(Dennis Franks (Custom credit) | Dennis Franks)

He turned on the generator to get through the night.

The next day he and Kathleen decided to leave. Rescue crews were at their door in 45 minutes.

The couple scrambled to get the necessities: credit cards, passports, medications. They also made sure to get their two cats, Kalie and Ginger, “and cat food because they’re very finicky,” Franks said.

With gear piled in his pickup truck, Franks and his wife got to the end of the road and were evacuated on a small boat.

They’re staying at the Captain’s Choice Motel for the time being. Franks doesn’t know when they’ll be able to go back home.

“I have two pairs of pants, two shirts, two changes of underwear. That’s it,” he said.”At least we know we’ll have a roof over our heads and someone will feed us. I’ve never been in this situation.”

Franks retired after a career as an Air Force flight surgeon. He and Kathleen settled in Haines in 1997.

Now 77, Franks is a self-described survivalist, well-stocked with survival food, camping gear, and firearms. Despite all of his training, he still wasn’t sure what to do when the disaster happened.

“You can’t really describe how you could prepare for this,” he said. “I wasn’t ready. What do you take? You can’t take everything.”

He’s grateful his family is safe but his heart goes out to the families of Jenae Larson and David Simmons, the two people still missing in the slide.

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