At least 3 dead after massive Alaska landslide destroys homes in wake of soaking atmospheric river

A giant landslide in Alaska killed at least 3; State of Emergency for Wrangell
A giant landslide in Alaska killed at least 3; State of Emergency for Wrangell. via Youtube video

At least three people are dead as search and recovery crews continue to scour through debris from a landslide that impacted properties outside of Wrangell, Alaska, on Monday.

Alaska’s Department of Public Safety reported the event occurred along the Zimovia Highway, about 11 miles south of the town of Wrangell in southeast Alaska.

The landslide occurred without warning, and first responders said the ground remains unstable, which could result in additional movement of terrain.

The slide is estimated to be 450 feet wide where it crossed the highway and the Coast Guard said as many as three other people are still missing from the event.

First responders said three homes were believed to be damaged in the flow of rocky debris along the Zimovia Highway.

“This afternoon a drone operator located two deceased adults in the slide area. The bodies were recovered from the slide area this evening. At this time, troopers believe that two juveniles and one adult are still unaccounted for in the slide area,” the Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

Heavy precipitation from an atmospheric river was reported to have fallen over southeast Alaska in the days before the landslide in Wrangell, which was likely responsible for triggering additional events in Hydaburg, Ketchikan and Klawock.

In addition to the heavy rain and snow, winds gusted to over 100 mph, leading to blizzard conditions and power outages on the southeast coast.

“The collaborative efforts displayed by the multiple organizations involved in the response efforts for this disaster reflect how the Alaskan people come together to help each other in times of need,” Captain Darwin Jensen, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Southeast Alaska, said in a statement. “We offer our deepest condolences to all those involved in this terrible tragedy, and continue to search for the missing.”

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy said he issued a disaster declaration for Wrangell after hearing about the damage.

Landslides are considered to be common in southeast Alaska, and the U.S. Forest Service has documented thousands of occurrences.

Long-term forecasts show continued storminess for the Gulf of Alaska, with heavy bouts of precipitation, which will likely keep the threat of mudslides and landslides high. [FW]

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