Three people have been found dead, including a young girl, and others are still missing after a large landslide covered a highway near a remote community in southeast Alaska on Monday, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety.
The landslide was reported Monday around 9 p.m. local time on the Zimovia Highway near Wrangell, and walloped three homes in its path, department officials said. Alaska’s Department of Transportation said the path grew to an estimated 450 feet wide and had a significant debris field.
A girl was found dead during initial search and rescue efforts Monday night, and the remains of two adults were located by a drone operator Tuesday and recovered, according to the department.
A woman was rescued from the slide area Tuesday morning, but officials believe two juveniles and an adult are still unaccounted for.
State troopers are leading ongoing search and rescue efforts, although the ground search was temporarily paused on Tuesday until the slide could be assessed for safety issues, the department said Tuesday morning. A geologist has since cleared some ground portions to resume search efforts, and more geologists are traveling to Wrangell to conduct further testing.
About 20 to 30 people have been displaced by the destructive landslide, Wrangell Borough Manager Mason Villarma said Tuesday.
The area has been wet in recent days — typical for this time of year there — but it was particularly rainy on Sunday and Monday, with more than 3 inches of rain falling around Wrangell in the 24 hours leading up to the landslide, Andy Park, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Juneau, told CNN.
Park said winds of 61 to 87 mph Monday evening may have been a factor in the landslides as well.
The region of southeast Alaska is already at risk for debris flows, according to Barrett Salisbury, a geologist with the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys. Heavy rainfall, rapid snowmelt or saturated soil only increase that risk, he said in a news conference.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has issued a disaster declaration in Wrangel due to the landslide’s impacts, his office posted on social media.
Alaska’s Department of Public Safety has urged people not to enter the slide area as it was active throughout Tuesday night and additional landslides are possible.
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