3 People Missing In Sitka Landslide

—-UPDATE: 5:19 p.m.—–

Officials now say only three people remain missing in today’s landslide: City building official William Stortz, 62, and construction workers Elmer Diaz,26, and Ulises Diaz, 25.

The area remained unstable and officials suspended search and rescue efforts for several hours this afternoon, over fears of further landslides — though rescuers did manage to pull a dog alive from the debris. As of Tuesday evening, rescue and debris removal efforts had begun again, and were planned to continue until dark, and pick up again in the morning.

—-Original story, 4:32 p.m.—-

Four people are believed missing after rain triggered a series of landslides in Sitka early Tuesday morning. Recovery efforts have been suspended while officials wait for the affected slopes to stabilize.

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A new home under construction on Sitka’s Kramer Avenue was obliterated in the slide. A neighboring home is unscathed. (Photo by Joel Curtis/National Weather Service)
A new home under construction on Sitka’s Kramer Avenue was obliterated in the slide. A neighboring home is unscathed. (Photo by Joel Curtis/National Weather Service)

Those missing were all likely involved in the construction of several new homes on Kramer Avenue, about two miles from downtown Sitka. The slide in that area destroyed one of the new homes entirely, and damaged another, though the full extent of the damage was still unclear Tuesday afternoon.

Neighbors have reported a second slide on the northern end of Kramer Avenue, in an area that has not yet been developed.

The area remained unstable and officials suspended search and rescue efforts this afternoon, over fears of further landslides — though rescuers did manage to pull a dog alive from the debris. The neighborhood below the slide has been evacuated.

Heavy rains triggered what now appears to be at least three major landslides — and a handful of smaller ones — in Sitka this morning, prompting the city to declare a state of emergency.

A slide across Sawmill Creek Road heavily damaged the administration building at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, Sitka’s former pulp mill site, about eight miles from downtown. No injuries were reported, but the building was evacuated, along with bunkhouses belonging to local fish processor Silver Bay Seafoods.

A third slide was reported in a more remote area, on Harbor Mountain.

Cascade Creek was running high after heavy rainfall Tuesday, August 18. (Rebecca LaGuire, KCAW)
Cascade Creek was running high after heavy rainfall Tuesday, August 18. (Rebecca LaGuire, KCAW)

Harbor Mountain Road has been closed above the first gate at the bottom of the hill. Sawmill Creek Road has been closed beyond Silver Bay Seafoods, as crews work to remove the debris.

The National Weather Service recorded over 2-and-a-half inches of rainfall in the six-hour period between 4 and 10 AM.

The flash-flooding prompted temporary trail closures at Sitka National Historical Park. Flooding in the parking lot of the Sitka Laundry Center on Halibut Point Road opened a sinkhole the size of a large van in the pavement. Two propane tanks on the edge of the sinkhole have since been removed.