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Alaska officials say landslide danger remains after storm

The Yukon government has said it is standing by to provide help if requested
The Coast Guard is responding to rainfall-fueled landslides in Haines, shown here from a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk, on Dec. 3. (Lt. Erick Oredson/U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The Yukon government said it is standing by if help is requested from neighbouring Alaskan towns who have been affected by massive flooding and snowmelt in the past week.

Premier Sandy Silver said the Alaska Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have been in contact with the Yukon government, and that the territory has offered assistance.

“This offer was, as you can imagine, very well appreciated. They are working back and forth right now, and they will let us know if they want to take us up on our offer,” Silver said.

“Suffice it to say, Yukon will be there for Alaska,” he said.

Silver said the territory has a mutual aid agreement with Alaska and support is coordinated through the State Emergency Operations Centre. He said the Yukon escorted U.S. Army Reserve trucks to Haines when the highway was officially closed due to icy conditions.

On Dec. 8 the government confirmed that Haines Mayor Douglas Olerud has indicated that they have enough volunteers and no additional support is needed.

“He expressed concern about the unstable soil around Haines as rains continue and that more volunteers would just be more people put at risk. We will continue to monitor the situation and stand ready to support if called upon,” Yukon government spokesperson Matthew Cameron said.

Torrential rains prompted several landslides in the community last Wednesday. The largest, about 183 metres wide, took out four homes in the community of Haines.

David Simmons, 30, and Jenae Larson, 23, have been missing since the slide. The search has been suspended amid continued rain and the likelihood of additional slides, Alaska State Troopers said Dec. 7.

Ground searchers sent to Haines with troopers left Dec. 7, with one officer remaining to co-ordinate efforts with the borough police department and the incident command centre.

The agency would reevaluate search efforts if new information or evidence is located, troopers said in a web posting.

More than four dozen families have evacuated because of the conditions, and motels in the community of about 2,500 are full. Borough officials have encouraged nearly a third of the town’s residents to pack essentials and be ready to move on a moment’s notice as weather conditions deteriorated and the risk of landslides remained high.

NDP leader Kate White has also proposed a motion in the legislature to financially contribute to relief efforts. Individual Yukon residents have been contributing to fundraisers in support.

The Tourism Industry Association of Yukon donated $1,000 to relief efforts.

“Ties within the tourism industry are strong in the golden triangle of Haines, Whitehorse and Skagway. So this tragedy involves our friends and colleagues,” said president Neil Hartling.

Hartling described both Skagway and Haines as favourite destinations for many Yukoners. He said he’s been in communication with friends across the border who are dealing with washed-out roads and flooded basements.

“Not being able to go is something I think all Yukoners have all missed this year. Now of course, not being able to go in and help out in any way is a sad situation,” he said.

The heavy rains have caused damage in at least 12 communities, prompting local officials to seek disaster recovery assistance, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office said. Dunleavy declared a state of emergency Dec. 5 for communities affected by the severe storm that led to landslides, flooded buildings and roads, downed trees and caused power outages.

In the southeast Alaska community of Ketchikan, some residents were evacuated over fears of a dam failure. The residents were permitted to return home the night of Dec. 5 after rainfall slowed and the water level at Ketchikan Lakes fell to about 106 metres. Some residents grabbed surf boards to enjoy the one-metre surges.

With files from the Associated Press

Contact Haley Ritchie at