With two people still missing after a massive landslide in Haines, organizations across Juneau and Alaska are pitching in to help the town dig out as quickly as possible.
“Last night, our Tribal Emergency Operations Center had kinda kicked into gear to deal with the situation in Haines,” said Jason Wilson, the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s TEOC incident commander, in a phone interview. “There’s multiple things happening here.”
Tlingit and Haida, Capital City Fire/Rescue, the Alaska State Troopers and the U.S. Coast Guard among other organizations across are sending personnel, resources and expertise to assist after heavy rains destroyed roads, wiped out houses and left more than 50 people without homes. Damage was concentrated on Beach Road, but it was heavy throughout the town, said Haines’ interim manager Alekka Fullerton in an email.
Haines, home to fewer than 2,000, is located about 75 miles north of Juneau.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy mobilized state assets late Wednesday, saying in a news release the situation had his full attention.
“We got a crew of five that went up this morning,” said CCFR assistant chief Ed Quinto in a phone interview. “These guys are part of our special teams. They’re versed in rope rescue. A couple years ago, they also took a class in structural collapse.”
The deployment of this specialist team is open-ended, as searchers still look for the two remaining missing persons, David Simmons and Jenae Larson. Four other missing people have been located since the beginning of SAR operations.
“Right now we’re waiting and seeing what’s going to happen,” Quinto said. “We’re gonna think about sending additional resources, manpower and equipment.”
CCFR isn’t the only Juneau organization to send specialists to Haines.
“We had a team that flew up with the National Guard this morning,” said Jackie Ebert, president of Juneau Mountain Rescue, in a phone interview. “There’s three dog teams and three JMRs.”
Members of JMR and Juneau Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search both deployed to assist SAR operations in the town. JMR is also providing logistical and operational support from Juneau, coordinating sweeps and map detailing, while standing ready to provide more searchers if necessary.
“This is a huge collaborative effort,” Ebert said. “There’s a lot of moving parts, and a lot of different agencies.”
Supporting the displaced
Tlingit and Haida’s response was swift, Wilson said, putting TEOC personnel on a Coast Guard helicopter to coordinate with state and local response managers. The TEOC loaded a vessel Thursday afternoon, slated for arrival late that evening or early Friday morning, with supplies to help the displaced and assist efforts to clear debris and remove water.
“We put together some shelter, some bedding- cots and sleeping bags- as well as clothes to give to people that have been displaced,” Wilson said. “We’re also looking at food and water.”
The vessel was loaded with water pumps, a front-end loader and personnel to operate them and assist recovery efforts, Wilson said.
“I can’t stress enough how important the TEOC is. These types of events happen. Up until now, in 2020, we’ve never had a dedicated department,” Wilson said. “It’s absolutely vital to all our communities in Southeast Alaska, to all our tribal citizens, that this organization be in place and ready.”
Immediate needs for the displaced will be shifted by longer term needs soon, Wilson said.
“There’s going to be a second and third wave of assistance to the community. This close to Christmas, we’re looking at 50 displaced people. That’s huge,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot that needs to be done for these people.”
The most effective assistance people can provide right now is financially, Fullerton said Efforts of volunteers and organizations assisting local agencies are currently concentrated SAR and clearing roads.
Bartlett Regional Hospital was also supporting those affected by the disaster, said BRH spokesperson Katie Bausler in a phone interview.
“I do know our behavioral health staff has been in contact with people up in Haines,” Bausler said. “They’re working with them for their mental health needs.”
State and federal assistance
Tlingit and Haida’s vessel won’t be the only one from Juneau making the trip to Haines.
The Coast Guard Cutter Anacapa and Coast Guard Station Juneau’s 45-foot response boat-medium sailed north in response to the disaster, assisting with SAR efforts, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Lexie Preston in an email. The Coast Guard also deployed aircraft to assist, in addition to ferrying SAR specialists from Juneau.
“The MH-60 Jayhawk Helicopter crew got on scene first and was able to search for approximately an hour and a half over the shoreline at Haines,” Preston said. “The aircrew didn’t find any search results and returned to Juneau.”
The Coast Guard searched a 35-square-mile area for missing people, according to a Coast Guard news release. The Coast Guard is continuing to assist efforts in Haines as best it can, Preston said.
“The partnerships throughout the multiple organizations involved in the response efforts for this disaster reflect how the Alaskan community comes together in times of need,” said Capt. Stephen White, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Juneau. “We offer our condolences to all the residents of Haines who are affected.”
The Alaska State Troopers are also involved, both with boots on the ground and providing specialist support, coordinate SAR work from Anchorage, said Department of Public Safety spokesperson Megan Peters in a phone interview.
“We have an AST sergeant and three wildlife troopers and one civilian employee in Haines,” Peters said. “We also have a SAR coordinator that’s working from Anchorage to coordinate what resources we have to be successful.”
The Troopers have also provided the P/V Enforcer, a maritime enforcement vessel, to assist with SAR efforts and supplement electrical generation capability if required.
Alaska National Guardsmen, including aircraft, were also deployed to assist.
How can you help?
Haines, Tlingit and Haida and The Salvation Army have started funds. Donations can be made online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/haines-alaska-disaster-relief, http://www.ccthita.org/info/news/index.html, and https://give-ak.salvationarmy.org/give/316562/#!/donation/checkout, respectively.