Alaska officials call off search for 2 people lost in Haines mudslide, citing ongoing rain and safety concerns
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Jordan Culver, USA TODAY
Published 12:06 a.m. ET Dec. 8, 2020

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Landslides buried homes beneath piles of mud in Haines, Alaska after days of heavy rain. The National Guard will assist in rescue and recovery efforts.

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The search for two people missing since a mudslide devastated a small Alaska community has been called off, and officials say the area is still dealing with “significant concerns” after more rainfall on Monday. 

Alaska State Troopers suspended the search for David Simmons and Janae Larson “due to continued rain and the likelihood of additional landslides in the area,” the Department of Public Safety said in a statement

Haines, a community of about 2,000 in northern Alaska, was soaked by a record-breaking rainstorm last week that led to multiple mudslides and flooding.

Ground searchers deployed to the area with state troopers left on Monday — a sergeant with the state troopers will stay in the area to coordinate disaster relief efforts alongside local police, officials said in a statement. 

‘Very miserable conditions’: More rain, snow forecast amid search for 2 people lost in mudslides in Haines, Alaska

The Haines area saw off and on showers Monday, according to Greg Spann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau, Alaska. More rain is forecast for Tuesday, and there are already concerns about how saturated the ground is, he said. 

Forecasters reported 6.62 inches of rain in Haines on Dec. 2, shattering the previous record of 1.37 inches. 

“The big concern we have for Haines is the grounds are still completely saturated from all the rain we had previously,” Spann said. “So even though we don’t have as much rain falling as we did back then, with the ground fully saturated, any more rain is just runoff. Rain the ground simply can’t take. That makes the ground more unstable than it otherwise would be.” 

Spann said the risk for new mudslides “does continue to exist.” 

‘The wettest day ever’: 4 of 6 missing people found safe; homes destroyed after record Alaska rainstorm

“Of course, we hope that none happen, but at the moment, as long as the risk remains, you have to remain on guard and remain alert,” Spann said.

Simmons, 30, and Larson, 23, have been missing since Wednesday.

Simmons, the interim executive director of the Haines Economic Development Corp., owned one of the homes that was destroyed. Larson, 23, a recent University of Idaho graduate who returned to her hometown to teach kindergarten, rented an apartment above Simmons’ garage.

Four other people who were initially reported as missing in mudslides were found safely, Alaska State Troopers said last week.

The heavy rains have caused damage in at least 12 communities, prompting local officials to seek disaster recovery assistance, Alaska. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office said. Dunleavy declared a state of emergency Saturday for communities affected by the severe storm that led to landslides, flooded buildings and roads, downed trees and caused power outages.

The Haines Borough government warned residents “significant concerns with ground stability remain” in the area. Schools were closed Monday and will remain closed Tuesday, with officials saying they’re taking things “day by day.” 

“Several areas are experiencing ongoing debris events and additional precipitation is expected,” Haines officials said via Facebook. “Please stay vigilant and prepared.” 

Contributing: Jessica Flores, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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