Homes destroyed, people may be missing after Alaska mudslide

Homes are believed to have been destroyed and at least two people are unaccounted for after multiple mudslides in the Alaska community of Haines on Wednesday, authorities said.

The largest slide, about 600 feet (182.88 meters) wide, hit early Wednesday afternoon and trapped about 30 people. Those residents have now been evacuated, Haines Borough Mayor Douglas Olerud told The Associated Press. He said there were several smaller slides in the community of about 2,000 people.

Olerud said there has been a wide range in damage.

“We’ve had extreme flooding in some of the houses. We’ve had some that have shifted on their foundation. We’ve had some houses that were totally destroyed,” he said.

The slides occurred in heavy rains in southeast Alaska.

The National Weather Service said Wednesday afternoon that 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) had fallen in the Haines area as part of the storm and an additional 1 to 2 inches was possible by early Thursday morning.

Olerud said the rain was complicating efforts to get to some areas affected by slides and flooding. A flash flood warning remains in effect until late Wednesday night.

The pandemic is prompting social distancing challenges for those being evacuated. Staging areas have been set up for evacuees at the Legion Hall and at a Presbyterian church. Area motels are being contacted to find temporary housing, Anchorage television station Alaska’s News Source reported.

An effort to fly search and rescue teams in a helicopter from Juneau were underway, Alaska State Troopers said. The Coast Guard is also deploying forces from other ports in southeast Alaska to assist.

“At this point we are aware that damage has occurred in the town of Haines following the report of multiple landslides in the borough,” said Capt. Stephen White, commander of Coast Guard Sector Juneau, said in a statement. “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.”

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew was launched from Sitka to assist, and the Coast Guard cutters Liberty and Anacapa have been ordered to make preparations to sail to Haines to provide additional support.

A 45-foot (13.7-meter) Coast Guard response boat has also been launched from Juneau.

Olerud said the situation was moving so quickly he couldn’t provide a list of additional resources they may need.

“Prayers help. We can always take prayers. Those always work. We need a lot of those right now,” Olerud told the AP.