Thu, Aug 20, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Three missing after Alaska landslides

TRAPPED:The Alaskan city of 9,000 declared a state of emergency after heavy rain caused several landslides. Residents say they have little hope of finding the missing


Pedestrians look at the flood-damaged Sitka Laundry Center parking lot on Halibut Point Road in the coastal town of Sitka, Alaska, on Tuesday.

Photo: AP / James Poulson / The Daily Sitka Sentinel

A landslide described by one witness as a sea of logs, mud and debris is believed to have trapped three people who went missing on Tuesday from a neighborhood in the coastal town of Sitka, Alaska.

Sitka City Government officials earlier said four people were missing.

Chris Harshey, a carpenter, was working on a nearby home when the landslide occurred.

“All of a sudden, I heard crackling and crumbling, and then the lights flickered,” he told the Daily Sitka Sentinel.

Harshey went outside to investigate and saw “a sea of large logs, mud, more logs and a slurry of muddy debris.”

The slide destroyed a home about 180m above him and damaged another home closer to him.

The entire landslide lasted about four minutes, he said.


The landslides occurred on Tuesday morning after 6.35cm of rain fell in 24 hours. One sinkhole was also reported.

A city building official is among those who are missing. City officials said he is William Stortz, 62, who also is the city fire marshal. The Daily Sitka Sentinel first reported the identity.

The other people missing are brothers Elmer Diaz, 26, and Ulises Diaz, 25, Sitka Fire Department spokeswoman Sara Peterson said. Stortz’s wife, Libby, was at the area of the slide, waiting for a search to begin, family friend Peter Turner said.

“Most of us don’t have a lot of hope,” he said.

The search was delayed late on Tuesday afternoon because of the instability of the site.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker planned to tour Sitka yesterday to observe the damage.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are missing and all the people affected by the disasters in Sitka today,” Walker said in a statement.


Some other homes in the area were evacuated, but Peterson did not know how many residences or people were affected.

An office building just outside town was also evacuated because it is near one of the landslides.

Homes in the town have been flooded, and there were reports of residents not being able to reach their homes or leave their neighborhood, US Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Alaska spokesman Jeremy Zidek said.

Longtime Sitka resident Nolan Simpson said he toured parts of town and saw one home where the driveway was gone, replaced by a stream washing through it. He passed the Indian River and said it was roaring.

The city of more than 9,000 people declared a state of emergency because of the landslides.

Sitka, about 965km southeast of Anchorage, sees heavy rain throughout the year. More rain was expected.

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