Alaska authorities have identified family members killed in a major landslide that struck a residential area earlier this week.
Search crews recovered the bodies of Timothy Heller, 44, Beth Heller, 36, and their 16-year-old daughter Mara Heller late on Monday or early on Tuesday.
Derek Heller, 12, and Kara Heller, 11, the couple’s other two children, remain missing. Otto Florschutz, 65, their neighbor, is also still missing. Fortunately, Mr. Florschutz’s wife survived the landslide.
Ground search teams, assisted by K-9 teams and heat-sensing drones, worked throughout the week in the aftermath of the slide. The landslide, which occurred on Monday night, tore down a wide swath of evergreen trees from near the top of a mountain down to the ocean, close to the island community of Wrangell.
At least three homes were hit by the estimated 137m-wide landslide. Rescue crews found Mara Heller’s body on Monday night and the bodies of her parents on Tuesday.
The Hellers, who ran a construction company called Heller High Water, were described by Tyla Nelson, Ms. Heller’s best friend, as “fantastic humans.” Beth and Timothy both grew up in Wrangell and married in August 2010. Ms. Heller, a wonderful mother, served on the Wrangell School Board from 2019 to 2020.
Mr. Florschutz, who previously served on Wrangell’s Port Commission, entered the race for the congressional seat vacated following the death of US Representative Don Young last year.
Around 54 homes are cut off from town by the landslide, and approximately 35 to 45 people have chosen to stay in that area. Boats are providing supplies, including food, fuel, water, and prescription medications to those residents. Officials are working to clear debris from a roadway.
Debris flows, such as this landslide, pose a threat in southeastern Alaska due to steep slopes, particularly during heavy rain, according to Barrett Salisbury, a geologist with the state Department of Natural Resources. Saturated soil can give way when gusts blow trees on a slope, triggering these slides.