Massive landslide leaves 3 dead, 3 missing

WRANGELL, AK – An extensive landslide near the Alaskan city of Wrangell has sadly resulted in at least three confirmed fatalities, with three others currently missing, as reported by officials. Occurring just before 9 p.m. local time on Monday, the landslide damaged a section of the Zimovia Highway. It directly impacted three houses, two on the mountainside and one on the waterside of the highway. It is believed one of the mountainside homes was unoccupied at the time of the disaster.

An immediate response was initiated by emergency responders from multiple agencies, including Wrangell police and fire departments and Alaska Wildlife Troopers, who initiated a search for survivors. The landslide has claimed the lives of a young female and two adults, with fears held for two juveniles and another adult currently unaccounted for. A woman residing on the mountainside was rescued on Tuesday morning, with her condition reported as good.

Search and rescue operations remain ongoing despite the hazardous conditions, with the Alaska State Troopers in charge. Ground search operations were briefly halted but have since resumed in some areas, following clearance by a geologist. Assisting with the effort is the U.S. Coast Guard, conducting water searches, and a drone operator.

Residents have been warned to avoid the area of the landslide due to the risk of subsequent slides, with advice to evacuate into Wrangell being issued. An estimated 20 to 30 residents have evacuated as of now, while the Zimovia Highway remains closed to all traffic past mile 6. A state disaster for the landslide has been declared by Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy.

This kind of landslide, known as a debris flow, is common in southeast Alaska, in areas characterized by steep slopes. This disaster is believed to have been caused by a saturation of soil, containing water, soil, rocks, trees, and other debris that can reach speeds of 35 mph. Landslide risks are heightened during intense rainfall.