Search teams in Sitka are racing the clock Friday afternoon, as they work to find the third victim of Tuesday’s landslide before a new storm arrives tonight. The National Weather Service is forecasting heavy rain and wind in Sitka this weekend. Officials say the weather will make it unsafe for work crews, as more rain could cause more slides.
Meanwhile, officials today released the names of the two landslide victims whose bodies were recovered on Wednesday and Thursday. They were identified as brothers Elmer and Ulises Diaz, who were working on the house on Kramer Avenue that was destroyed in Tuesday’s landslide.
Teams are still searching for the third missing man, William Stortz, Sitka’s building official.
Deputy Fire Chief Al Stevens, who is running the recovery work, says recovery teams have “a very small window” in which to finish their work, “and it’s rapidly closing.”
“My full intention as the incident commander, is I intend to pull all crews out at approximately 8 o clock tonight. If the rains come sooner, I’m going to pull them out sooner…we’re gonna pull all equipment, all crews out, obviously for safety reasons.”
Stevens says he expects to halt all work through the weekend, until his team can reassess weather conditions.
Trained dogs working with the Juneau-based search team SEADOGS had called attention to a site on Thursday where officials hoped to find William Stortz. But Stevens says that as of this afternoon, dogs had also indicated several other sites, and crews are working at all of them. He says it isn’t easy going:
“As you can imagine, this is a rather deep, with mud, water, logs. And you don’t just come in and scoop a big chunk out and call it good. You have to methodically and meticulously pull one piece out at a time, and we have spotters in there that have to look at what’s happening, and and this is why it’s taking so long.”
The National Weather Service is predicting up to three inches of rain in the next 36 to 48 hours. But, that’s still significantly less intense than the storm on Tuesday, which is estimated to have dropped more than two and a half inches in just six hours at sea level. Much more rain likely fell higher up the mountain where the slide started.
A memorial fund established for the Diaz family has raised over $14,000 by Friday evening.