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Support for Haines continues as community considers long-term impacts of landslide

Volunteers prepare supplies donated to those affected by the Haines landslide. Courtesy Lora...
Volunteers prepare supplies donated to those affected by the Haines landslide. Courtesy Lora McCoy.(Lora McCoy)
Published: Dec. 26, 2020 at 8:49 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Some Haines families are returning home, while others look for alternative housing options as the borough continues to deal with the aftermath of a landslide that displaced over 50 families in early December.

“We’re currently at a little bit of a standstill,” said Haines Borough Mayor Douglas Olerud. “We’ve opened up part of the Beach Road area for people to access it.”

Olerud added that the slide is still considered unstable, meaning access to houses on the other side can only be done via water travel. He estimated around 20 houses remain inaccessible because of the landslide, though some houses on the other side are being visited.

“Half of those, I believe, people are allowed to go to their houses now to winterize them, or access documents that they need, passports, checkbooks, things like that, that they didn’t get when they evacuated,” Olerud said.

But for many of the houses, it’s unclear when families will be able to return for good.

“We don’t know if it’s going to be two months, six months, until that road is open,” Olerud said. “We still got a lot of work to do to figure that out.”

Because of that uncertainty, one of the borough’s top priorities is to find suitable housing for the displaced families while geologists continue to assess the landslide and a large fracture that has appeared above other homes on Beach Road. Finding that housing is proving to be a challenge.

“When you’re a fairly remote area like we are, there’s not a lot of trailers or anything like housing units that you can bring in in a short period of time for something like this,” Olerud said.

As for other assistance for residents, Olerud said there have been challenges around the money donated to different organizations in response to the flood. He cited hesitation from some groups to distribute some of the funds for fear of disqualifying residents from later programs.

“They want to make sure that if they’re giving people, say housing assistance, that that doesn’t come back [up] later,” Olerud said.

One area of assistance that has been good, though, is in supply donations. On Saturday, community members helped to distribute donated food, water, clothes, and other essentials to Haines residents impacted by the landslide.

“We probably had 80 sleeping bags, and blankets, and sheets, and towels and washcloths, laundry soap, and cleaning supplies, you name it,” said Lora McCoy, a Haines resident and one of the volunteers distributing supplies.

According to McCoy, most of the donations came from other communities in Southeast Alaska, though Olerud said donations have even come in from other states and the Yukon. They both agreed that community members were blown away by the sheer volume of the donations.

“Several times we had 26-foot U-Haul trailers that were full that would come up on the ferry,” McCoy said.

As the Winter drags on, the community in Haines will continue looking at how best to help those affected by the landslide. Olerud mentioned one idea proposed by the Haines Chamber of Commerce for donations of gift cards from local restaurants to those affected.

“It all helps our local businesses, as well as helping the families,” he said.

In the end though, all of the assistance is appreciated. Olerud and McCoy both said the amount of support shown for Haines by different communities has been incredible, and both finished their conversations with Alaska’s News Source with the same two words for those who’ve helped: “Thank you.”

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