Authorities identify those killed and still missing after Alaska landslide
Nov 24, 2023, 3:57 PM
(CNN) — Authorities on Friday released the names of the three people killed and three others still missing after a landslide in southern Alaska.
Sixteen-year-old Mara Heller, 44-year-old Timothy Heller and 36-year-old Beth Heller were found dead, the state’s Department of Public Safety said in a news release.
Authorities say they are still searching for 65-year-old Otto Florschutz, 12-year-old Derek Heller and 11-year-old Kara Heller after a landslide hit the Zimovia Highway near Wrangell Monday night and destroyed three homes.
Loved ones of the missing and dead were notified, and the remains of those killed were sent to the medical examiner’s office for an autopsy, the release stated.
The search for the missing people who may be buried in the slide area moved “from an active search to a reactive search” on Thursday.
Authorities on Friday said they were working to clear the road of debris and have a scent detection K9 team “on standby to resume searching if new information or evidence” is found.
“While the active search is concluding, it remains a priority of the State of Alaska and your Alaska State Troopers to locate the three missing Alaskans so that we can bring closure to their families and the community,” Thursday’s news release said. “Our deepest sympathies are with the families, friends, and loved ones of the three deceased and three missing Alaskans.”
Officials conducted three search efforts in the area, where they used “drones, helicopters, and planes; ground teams with K9 scent detection dogs and trained professionals; and water-based searching with K9 teams and sonar,” the Alaska Department of Public Safety said Thursday.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety said a young girl, later identified as Mara Heller, was found dead during initial search and rescue efforts on Monday, and the remains of two others – Timothy and Beth Heller – were located by a drone operator on Tuesday.
Alaska’s Department of Transportation said the landslide’s path grew to an estimated 450 feet wide and had a significant debris field.
The area where the landslide struck had been particularly wet on Sunday and Monday, with more than 3 inches of rain falling around Wrangell in the prior 24 hours, Andy Park, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Juneau, told CNN.
Park said winds of 61 to 87 mph Monday evening may have been a factor in the landslides as well.
The region of southeast Alaska is already at risk for debris flows, according to Barrett Salisbury, a geologist with the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys. Heavy rainfall, rapid snowmelt or saturated soil only increase the risk, he said during a news conference.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has issued a disaster declaration in Wrangell due to the effects of the landslide, his office posted on social media.
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