Alaska State Troopers and the Haines Volunteer Fire Department evacuated residents by boat Wednesday afternoon after a large landslide crashed through a stretch of homes. Searchers are looking for six people who may be trapped in the debris, the fire department said.
Record-breaking rainfall triggered the large landslide, and smaller ones, in the Southeast Alaska community. Residents reported widespread damage, including flooding, across town. At least one house was seriously damaged after the big slide rumbled down Battery Hill, troopers said.
Local fisherman Woody Pahl was plugging in his boat on a trailer near the harbor when a landslide hit some houses, he guessed about three of them, around 2 p.m.
“All of a sudden, there was a tidal wave that took off from the beach going outwards, and I knew something big had just happened,” he said.
“And I look over, and all the water’s going out, all the boats are going back down in the harbor. And the hillside is just sliding and sending all the trees and everything, the houses, out into the bay in front of town.”
Resident Mike Ward said he first heard what sounded like a big “woosh.”
“We looked up and the mountainside’s coming down and we just ripped out there,” he said.
Ward said he immediately raced up to Beach Road, where the slide happened, from the Quick Shop. Police asked him not to pass.
“We were yelling and looking, see if we could help,” he said.
He estimated a half mile of the mountain crashed down into the Lynn Canal.
“There’s all sorts of household stuff — foam and buckets and colored stuff — out in the water,” he said. “Eerie feeling.”
Locals took out boats to help.
The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross are working to get displaced people into hotels. Rescuers are requesting that now that it’s dark, evacuees should shine lights to signal that they need to be picked up from the beach or wherever they are, said Britt Tonnessen with Red Cross of Alaska. People needing evacuation or other help may also call: 907-268-6015.
Before the slide, Haines residents woke up Wednesday morning to lots of destruction caused by a rare winter storm.
The borough declared a weather emergency as heavy rains flooded buildings, washed out roads throughout town and caused smaller landslides that took out several homes.
Schools and the clinic were closed. Roadway damage blocked access to the airport and the dock. The National Weather Service recorded more than 8 inches of rain at the Haines Airport overnight, and it was still raining Wednesday afternoon.
The agency says this kind of storm only happens once every 25 years.
Derek Poinsette lives in a neighborhood outside of town. His house was damaged in the storm and it is now cut off from town where the road is washed out.
“We had a tree come down on the on top of our house last night, from the hillside, the roots cut loose, likely due to the soil being saturated,” said Poinsette.
On the other side of town, Alaska State Troopers and the Haines Volunteer Fire Department evacuated residents by boat after a 600-foot mudslide took at least one home on Beach Road.
The Haines Borough assembled a local search and rescue team and requested helicopter backup from the Coast Guard and National Guard.
Haines resident Shori Heaton says her parents’ home at the end of Lutak Road was swept by a mudslide around 6 a.m. Wednesday. The house was vacant. It was one of at least two homes taken out by mudslides.
Neighbors next door also suffered damage to their basement. According to Heaton, the neighbors were asleep when the slide happened.
“They were upstairs,” said Heaton. “They were sleeping in another room on the couch. It hit the house, rumbled. They went running downstairs to their bedroom where the basement is and it’s just full of mud. It got a foot to 4 feet of mud in it.”
Lutak is not the only area of Haines that has suffered extensive damage. Numerous roads have been damaged by flooding and covered with debris.
A morning medevac to the nearest hospital was forced to land downtown in the Public Safety Building parking lot due to washouts and flooding between town and the airport. Washed out roads also separate the Haines townsite from the dock for the fuel supply and barges.
The Haines Borough is running on an emergency diesel generator.
Haines Borough Public Facilities Director Ed Coffland said that there is 3 feet of standing water in the lot next to the local laundromat near the center of town. Some residents have evacuated their homes in that area.
Lin Edgar’s home in town flooded on Tuesday night.
“At 8:00 I checked on the chickens and they were floating away basically, they were standing on their food bags,” she said.
At 10 p.m. she set an alarm for four hours later, so she could check on the water level.
“That was a mistake,” she said.
The situation had gotten much worse by 2 a.m.
“I couldn’t drive at that point,” she said. “I was calling dispatch because the water was over the the hood of my car. Or it was like up to the bumpers and and I wasn’t able to get out.”
At 4 a.m. first responders used a loader to rescue Edgar and her dog.
The National Weather Service has forecast more rain through the end of the week. They have advised people living along streams to stay alert and be prepared to take action if a warning or advisory is issued.
Reporters Henry Leasia, Abbey Collins, Rashah McChesney and Casey Grove contributed to this story.