ANCHORAGE — The search continued Friday for two people missing after a massive landslide crashed into a town in southeast Alaska, leaving a neighborhood mired in mud and felled trees stretching to the waterfront, the mayor said.
The debris field from Wednesday’s slide was too unstable to safely search by land, so officials were using boats with dogs on board to search the shoreline for David Simmons and Jenae Larson, Haines Borough Mayor Douglas Olerud said.
Rain and low visibility were hampering aerial efforts Friday, and a logjam of fallen trees on the beach also posed problems. “They need to get that moved to enhance their search efforts,” Olerud said.
Haines, with a population of about 2,500 people, experienced several landslides as heavy rains inundated much of southeast Alaska. The landslides followed a deluge of about 10 inches of rain over two days.
Unstable ground prompted a mandatory evacuation order late Thursday for one area of town and a voluntary order for an adjacent area, Olerud said.
He didn’t know how many people were affected, but the city’s motels were full with residents who have had to leave their homes.
The largest slide Wednesday was estimated at about 600 feet wide (183 kilometers), and took out four homes as it pushed debris to the water line. Authorities initially said six people were missing after the slide, but revised that Thursday when four people were found safe.
Simmons, newly hired to lead the city’s economic development corporation, lives in one of the four homes destroyed in the landslide.
Larson, who recently graduated from the University of Idaho, is in her first year as a kindergarten teacher in her native Haines. She rents an apartment above Simmons’ garage and was only home the day of the slide because school had been canceled.
“Jenae is strong, she’s tenacious, she’s kind and she’s good,” Haines Borough School District Superintendent Roy Getchell said.
He called her a natural, experienced child advocate who student-taught at the school last year.
“We’re privileged that she’s on our staff now,” he said.
Simmons, 30, a native of Chico, California, is a world traveler, visiting nearly 70 countries and documenting his experiences in YouTube videos, on a website and with a book.
He followed his cousin Cambria Goodwin, a contestant on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars,” to Haines after she opened restaurants. He also decided to put down roots, opening a transportation service between Haines and Whitehorse, Yukon, and buying a house.
Last August, he was hired to be the interim director of the Haines Economic Development Corp. and successfully helped businesses and individual fishermen apply for federal assistance, loans and grants during the COVID-19 crisis.
Simmons “just worked tirelessly at that and got millions of dollars for a lot of different folks that otherwise wouldn’t have come into the hands of the community,” said Greg Schlachter, president of the board of directors for the corporation.
Simmons has a “huge spark for life,” “Schlachter said. “He’s been a major asset to the community.”
Olerud said he’s known Larson since she was little. He called her a “very bright, energetic young lady” and Simmons a “phenomenal individual.”
“Both of them are amazing people,” he said.