A landslide that ripped down a sopping, heavily forested mountainside in southeast Alaska killed three people, injured a woman and left three other people missing as it smashed into three homes in a remote fishing community, authorities said Tuesday.
Rescue crews found the body of a girl in an initial search, and late Tuesday the bodies of two adults were found by a drone operator, the Alaska Department of Public Safety confirmed. Crews resorted to a cadaver-sniffing dog and heat-sensing drones to search for two children and one adult who remained unaccounted for hours after the disaster, while the Coast Guard and other vessels looked along the oceanfront, which was littered with debris from the landslide. The ages of the children were not released.
Three single-family homes were in the path of the landslide when it occurred at about 9 p.m. Monday, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation.
Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Austin McDaniel said at a news briefing that crews on Tuesday morning rescued a woman who had been on the upper floor of a home that was struck. She was in good condition and undergoing medical care.
The slide was estimated to be about 450 feet wide at the point that it crossed a local highway, the state transportation department reported. It buried a highway and cut off access and power to approximately 75 homes. Boats evacuated residents from the cut-off area to the unaffected part of town, according to the state emergency management office.
The slide remained active as of Tuesday afternoon, according to state troopers, and additional landslides are still possible. All residents in the area were asked to evacuate.
Phone service appeared to be down for the remote community, but officials posted on Facebook that a local food bank was accepting donations and offered a community gathering place at a local bakery.
"Our hearts are heavy and our thoughts are with those suffering due to last night's events," officials wrote on Wrangell's Facebook page.
State troopers were leading search and rescue efforts with the assistance of multiple agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Forest Service.
Wrangell is a coastal village located in southeast Alaska, with a population of just over 2,000, according to the latest census data.
State troopers urged people caught on the other side of the slide, away from Wrangell, to evacuate by water taxi. A shelter has been established.
Wrangell received about 2 inches of rain between 1 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday, with wind gusts up to 60 mph at higher elevations, said Aaron Jacobs, a hydrologist and meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau.
It was part of a strong storm system that moved through southeast Alaska bringing heavy snow in places and blizzard-like conditions to Juneau — and rainfall with minor flooding to areas further south. Landslides also were reported in the Ketchikan area and on Prince of Wales Island, he said.
Another storm system is expected in the Wrangell area late Wednesday into Thursday.
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