By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – At least one person has been killed and multiple others were believed to be missing in a major landslide along the principal roadway serving an island community in Southeast Alaska, state officials said on Tuesday.
The slide struck shortly before 9 p.m. local time on Monday along the Zimovia Highway in Wrangell, Alaska, a fishing and logging town of about 2,000 residents 155 miles (250 km) south of Juneau, the state capital, according to the state Public Safety Department.
Emergency personnel found the body of one victim in an initial search for survivors, and a preliminary survey determined that three single-family homes were directly in the path of the slide, the agency said in a release.
“Multiple individuals are believed to have been within the slide area when the landslide occurred and are believed to be missing,” the statement said.
Alaska state police assumed command of the search-and-rescue effort, but ground-level search operations were suspended while geologists assessed the risk of additional landslide activity in the area, the public safety agency said.
In the meantime, authorities were searching the slide zone by aircraft and drones. There was no immediate word on what conditions may have precipitated the slide.
The borough of Wrangell, founded in the 19th century by Russians in a region inhabited for centuries by the Native Tlingit people and their ancestors, occupies the northern tip of Wrangell Island in the Alaska Panhandle region.
It has no connection with the Wrangell Mountains or Wrangell-St. Elias National Park farther inland and well to the northwest.
Wrangell is linked to the mainland and other towns in Southeast Alaska by ferry and airplane. Its principal road is the Zimovia Highway, which runs along the west side of the island for 14 miles.
The landslide struck at mile 11, prompting a 5-mile closure of the highway, and an evacuation advisory for all residents living along a 4-mile stretch of the road from the point of the slide to the end of the pavement.