(WRANGELL, Alaska) — At least three people are dead and three others are believed to be missing following a “large landslide” in Alaska, officials said.
The landslide was reported along the Zimovia Highway at mile 11 shortly before 9 p.m. local time Monday near Wrangell, a city in the Alaska Panhandle, officials said.
Three homes were determined to be directly in the path of the landslide — two houses on the mountainside and one on the waterside of the highway — according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety. One of the mountainside homes is believed to have been empty at the time, officials said.
Emergency responders from the Wrangell police and fire departments, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and other agencies responded immediately and “started a hasty search to look for survivors,” the Alaska Department of Public Safety said in a statement.
The body of a deceased female juvenile from the waterside house was located during the search Monday night, according to Alaska Department of Public Safety spokesperson Austin McDaniel.
Two more deceased adults were located Tuesday, Alaska Search and Rescue said in a press release.
Three people — two juveniles and one adult — are believed to be missing with search and rescue K9 teams from SEA Dogs in Juneau and Wrangell Search and Rescue actively searching on the ground, according to Tuesday evening’s press release.
Search and rescue efforts are ongoing, he said during a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.
A woman who lived on the mountainside of the highway was rescued Tuesday morning and is listed in good condition, McDaniel said.
The Alaska State Troopers are leading the search and rescue effort. The ground search had been briefly paused Tuesday due to the hazardous conditions, though a geologist has since cleared some of the areas of the slide for ground searches to begin, McDaniel said.
The U.S. Coast Guard is also conducting water searches and a drone operator is assisting in the search, officials said.
Officials advised individuals not to enter the slide area, as additional landslides are possible in the area. Residents in the area have been urged to evacuate into Wrangell. About 20 to 30 people have mostly evacuated, officials said.
The Zimovia Highway remains closed to traffic south of mile 6.l
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has declared a state disaster for the landslide.
“We are offering Wrangell all the resources our state has available,” Dunleavy said in a statement.
The landslide is estimated to have measured 500 feet across at the highway, officials said.
This type of landslide — known as a debris flow — can occur throughout southeast Alaska where there are steep slopes, according to Alaska Department of Natural Resources geologist Barrett Salisbury.
The debris flow occurs when the soil becomes saturated and cannot hold itself in place and typically contains water, soil, rocks, trees and other debris, he said.
“They’re notably destructive and they can travel upwards of about 35 mph,” Salisbury told reporters.
Several days of intense rainfall or short periods of “extremely intense rainfall” increase the risk of a landslide, he said.
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