Landslides and floods hit Alaska’s Haines Borough
Mayor Douglas Olerud declared a state of emergency in the town
Battery Hill is one of the areas hit hardest
Two people were still unaccounted for on Friday after six went missing following major landsides in Haines Borough, Alaska, on Dec. 2.
Many houses situated on a hillside are now unhabitable because of the disaster, Haines Borough Interim Manager Alerkka Fullerton told CNN. “The whole side of the hill has come down.”
An Alaska government Facebook post stated: “The potential for additional debris flows and landslides over the next 24 hours is high.”
Haines Borough Mayor Douglas Olerud said that several slides struck the area, including one on Battery Hill that was estimated to be around 600 feet wide. Thirty people initially thought to be trapped when that slide occurred have reportedly been evacuated. The mayor also said Haines Borough has had to utilize emergency diesel power during this natural disaster.
According to the Alaska Department of Public Safety, there is approximately nine feet of mud and debris covering the area where houses were destroyed. Search and rescue operations were initially suspended Wednesday evening due to unstable grounds.
On Thursday, Juneau-based rescue crews, including an Applied Weather Technology vessel, an Aviation Survival Technician, Juneau Mountain Rescue, SEADOGS (a K9 rescue team), and Capital City Fire Department medics arrived. State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources geologists were expected to assess the risk of searching through the mudslides, an advisory noted.
On Dec. 2, Olerud declared a state of emergency due to extreme flooding, and the borough shut down schools and non-essential businesses. “Several Haines Borough residents have lost their homes both due to flooding and mudslides,” the mayor said.
Olerud published a message on his Facebook page on Wednesday explaining that “Haines is going to be needing lots of prayers. We have several roads that have washed out, mudslides and house flooding. Crews have been working all night but the amount of rain we are getting is making it difficult for them to address all the problems. Please be patient with each other. These are stressful times but Haines will come together and help each other. If you are in an emergency situation contact dispatch at 766-2121.”
Luke Williams, 39, who has been a Haines resident for most of his life, told the Associated Press that the rainstorm and its aftermath have been the “worst I have ever seen,” but he said the community is coming together for one another.
“That’s the one thing special about this small town,” he said. “Everyone comes together no matter how mad one person is at another.”
The Haines Borough Police Department thanked local shops that have provided food and blankets. “To our Haines angels, thank you Sarah J’s, Rusty Compass, Alpenglow and Krystal Lloyd for feeding our responders. Your support is greatly appreciated,” read the department’s Facebook page.
The Alaska Public Safety Department said that many government and non-government agencies are coordinating logistics in order for residents to get the help they need.
“At this point we are aware that damage has occurred in the town of Haines following the report of multiple landslides in the borough,” Capt. Stephen White, commander of Coast Guard Sector Juneau, said in a statement to the AP. “The scope of the damage is unknown at this time but we are proactively moving several assets and personnel to provide assistance to local first responders and the residents who may have been impacted by the landslides.”