Six people were missing in southeast Alaska on Wednesday after heavy rains triggered landslides that buried homes under several feet of mud, state officials said.
The landslides have crushed at least four homes in Haines, Alaska, about 90 miles north of the state capital, Juneau, and is home to about 2,500 people, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
Nine feet of mud and trees covered part of Haines, according to the department, which said it suspended rescue operations Wednesday night due to rumbling and unstable ground.
Rescue operations were scheduled to resume Thursday morning, the department said, when a helicopter carrying medics, search personnel and dogs was scheduled to arrive in Haines.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy said the state’s emergency operations center was coordinating the response and search and rescue teams had been mobilized.
“My Emergency Response Team and I are monitoring the unfolding natural disaster in Haines and the wider South East,” Mr. Dunleavy written on twitter.
Douglas Olerud, the mayor of Haines, said the landslides were caused by a storm system that dumped eight inches of rain on Tuesday and three to four inches of rain on Wednesday.
He said intense flooding was due to the drainage ditches in Haines having already been plugged with about two to three feet of snow from a previous storm.
A series of small landslides hit Haines on Tuesday and a large landslide crushed homes on Wednesday, he said. About 30 people were evacuated by boat, he said.
Mr Olerud said he spoke to Mr Dunleavy and other state officials on Wednesday about the urgent need for support.
“Everyone is in awe of the devastation and everyone is really busy helping each other,” he said Wednesday evening. “We pray that we have a happy ending and that we can find everyone alive.”
The Coast Guard said it was among the agencies providing support.
A helicopter crew from the Sitka Air Station were en route to Haines, and crews from two cutters – Liberty and Anacapa – had been asked to prepare to sail to Haines to provide additional support, the Coast Guard said. A 45-foot Coast Guard boat was also en route from Juneau.
“At this point, we know that damage has occurred in the town of Haines following the report of multiple landslides in the borough,” said Captain Stephen White, Coast Guard Area Commander Juneau, in a statement. “The extent of the damage is unknown at this time, but we are proactively moving several assets and personnel to provide assistance to local first responders and residents who may have been affected by the landslides.”
Mike Baker contributed reporting.