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Alaska landslide kills three; two children missing

AP – Authorities on Friday identified those missing or killed in a southeast Alaska landslide this week as five family members and their neighbour, a commercial fisherman who made a long shot bid for the state’s lone seat in the United States (US) House last year.

Timothy Heller, 44, and Beth Heller, 36 – plus their children Mara, 16; Derek, 12; and Kara, 11 – were at home last Monday when the landslide struck near the island community of Wrangell. Search crews found the bodies of the parents and the oldest child late Monday or early Tuesday; the younger children remain missing, as does neighbor Otto Florschutz, 65, the Alaska Department of Public Safety said in an emailed statement.

Florschutz’s wife survived.

The slide tore down a swath of evergreen trees from the top of the mountain above the community to the ocean, striking three homes and burying a highway near the island community of Wrangell, about 250 kilometres south of Juneau. One of the homes was unoccupied.

The slide – estimated to be 137 metres wide – occurred during a significant rainfall and heavy winds. Wrangell received about five centimetres of rain with wind gusts up to 96 kilometres per hour at higher elevations, said National Weather Service hydrologist and meteorologist Aaron Jacobs in Juneau.

The landslide cut off about 54 homes from town. Roughly 35 to 45 people have chosen to stay in the area, said interim borough manager Mason Villarma. Boats are being used to provide supplies including food, fuel, water and prescription medications.

A helicopter arrives at the affected area in Wrangell, Alaska. PHOTO: AP