Child's body pulled from debris of Alaska landslide brings death toll to 4 as 2 remain missing

WRANGELL, Alaska – The death toll from a landslide that buried homes and a highway outside of Wrangell, Alaska, last week has risen to four after officials said crews recovered the body of an 11-year-old girl from the debris on Saturday.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety has identified the victims as:

  • Timothy Heller, 40

  • Beth Heller, 36

  • Mara Heller, 16

  • Kara Heller, 11

Two victims remain missing, and they have been identified as:

  • Otto Florschutz, 65

  • Derek Heller, 12

Officials said that a scent detection team remains on standby and will resume searching for the missing victims if new information or evidence leads to a specific search area.

The agency reported that the deadly landslide occurred along the Zimovia Highway, about 11 miles south of Wrangell in southeastern Alaska, on Nov. 20. The slide was estimated to be 450 feet wide where it crossed the highway.

Wrangell Slide over Zimovia Hwy looking North (Photo: Caleb Purviance)
Aerial view of the Wrangell Slide over Zimovia Hwy looking North.

The landslide occurred without warning, and first responders said the ground remained unstable, which could result in additional movement.

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First responders said three homes were believed to be damaged in the flow of rocky debris along the Zimovia Highway.

Heavy precipitation from an atmospheric river was reported over southeastern Alaska in the days before the landslide in Wrangell, which was likely responsible for triggering additional events in Hydaburg, Ketchikan and Klawock.

Alaska landslide map
Alaska landslide map.

In addition to the heavy rain and snow, winds gusted to over 100 mph, leading to blizzard conditions and power outages on the southeastern coast.

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"The collaborative efforts displayed by the multiple organizations involved in the response efforts for this disaster reflect how the Alaskan people come together to help each other in times of need," Captain Darwin Jensen, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Southeast Alaska, said in a statement. "We offer our deepest condolences to all those involved in this terrible tragedy, and continue to search for the missing."

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Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy said he issued a disaster declaration for Wrangell after hearing about the damage.

Landslides are considered common in southeastern Alaska, and the U.S. Forest Service has documented thousands of occurrences.

Long-term forecasts show continued storminess for the Gulf of Alaska, with heavy bouts of precipitation, which will likely keep the threat of mudslides and landslides high.


Original article source: Child's body pulled from debris of Alaska landslide brings death toll to 4 as 2 remain missing