(Reuters) – Rescue crews in Alaska have halted active searching for victims of a landslide that killed at least three people and left three others missing in tons of mud and debris that swept down a rain-soaked mountain slope four days ago, officials said on Friday.
Search teams ceased operations on Thursday after scouring the debris field that buried three houses and a coastal stretch of highway in the island fishing and logging town of Wrangell in southeast Alaska, according to Austin McDaniel, a spokesperson for the state Public Safety Department.
The heavily wooded mountainside gave way on Monday night above the Zimovia Highway following a storm that lashed the region with heavy rain and high winds. The cascade of muck and splintered trees roared across the highway and over the shoreline at the bottom of the slope, swallowing everything in its path.
On Friday, the Public Safety Department said that a canine scent-detection team would remain on standby in Wrangell to resume searching should new information point to a specific area that warranted further examination.
The agency identified the three confirmed fatalities as Timothy Heller, 44; his wife, Beth Heller, 36; and their 16-year-old daughter, Mara. The teen’s body was found immediately after the slide, and her parent’s remains were recovered the following day.
Two younger children, Derek and Kara Heller, aged 12 and 11, are among the three individuals who remain listed as missing and were presumed dead. The third missing person was identified as 65-year-old Otto Florschutz, whose wife, Christina, 63, was found alive but injured on Tuesday morning.
The Hellers’ home stood between the edge of the highway and the shoreline, while the Florschutz couple lived on the opposite side of the highway. No one was home in the third house destroyed by the landslide, officials said.
The borough of Wrangell, settled by Russians in the 19th century in a region inhabited for centuries by the Native Tlingit people, occupies the northern tip of Wrangell Island in the Alaska Panhandle region about 155 miles (250 km) sound of Juneau, the state capital.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)