Organizations are withdrawing searchers from landslide-stricken Haines after the Alaska State Troopers called off active search and rescue operations due to hazardous conditions with the terrain and bad weather conditions in the search area. (U.S. Coast Guard photo / Lt. Erick Oredson)

Organizations are withdrawing searchers from landslide-stricken Haines after the Alaska State Troopers called off active search and rescue operations due to hazardous conditions with the terrain and bad weather conditions in the search area. (U.S. Coast Guard photo / Lt. Erick Oredson)

State calls off active search and rescue operations in Haines

Many organizations are withdrawing their searchers but continuing their support of recovery work.

Foul weather and unsafe terrain led the Alaska State Troopers to call off search and rescue operations for the two people missing after the Haines landslides.

“We can’t get people in the area where we need them to be and we’re not going to risk the lives of our search and rescue personnel at any point,” said Alaska Department of Public Safety communications director Megan Peters in a phone interview. “I can’t tell when it will be safe to put SAR personnel into the area we need to search. We have to look at where our resources are and what conditions are going to be.”

This doesn’t mean they’ll give up looking for the missing David Simmons and Jenae Larson, only that it’s currently unsafe to do so, Peters said.

“It could be a while. It could be until spring. Normally, we see this type of situation with avalanches. We go in. We do what we can up front,” Peters said. “We look to a later point in time when weather and snow is not going to be a factor and attempt to locate someone.”

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Other organizations are withdrawing most of their boots on the ground from SAR operations, but continuing to support the beleaguered town in other ways.

“Most of the people are back with the exception of two medics,” said Capital City Fire/Rescue assistant chief Ed Quinto in a phone interview. “They assisted the best they could with what they had.”

The two CCFR personnel remaining behind are lending a hand with the Haines Fire Department’s daily operations, freeing up personnel for other work. Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which also had personnel, supplies and heavy equipment deployed to Haines, withdrew its personnel from the area on Sunday, the Tribal Emergency Operations Center announced.

“The withdrawal of TEOC personnel does not mean we are ending our response and support,” said TEOC incident commander Jason Wilson. “We will continue to provide assistance as needed and are also monitoring the situation in Ketchikan. We are in communication with the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center and are prepared to provide assistance if necessary.”

Ketchikan Lake Dam posed a risk of failure over the weekend from heavy rain, which would threaten much of downtown Ketchikan if it let go.

The Coast Guard will continue to provide ongoing support while withdrawing most of its assets from the region, including its cutters and aircraft.

“We currently have two incident management division personnel from Coast Guard Sector Juneau in Haines assisting the local EOC as they handle the recent landslides,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Lexie Preston, a Coast Guard public affairs specialist, in an email.

Local Alaska Wildlife Troopers and a trooper sergeant from Juneau will also be assisting ongoing recovery efforts in an open-ended fashion, Peters said. The roads had begun to get cleared and certain areas along the beaches were being declared safe for people to search for possessions, Peters said.

The Salvation Army has also started a donation fund to assist residents who were victims of the disaster at https://give-ak.salvationarmy.org/give/316562/#!/donation/checkout.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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