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Mudslides Devastate Small Alaskan Town


In southeast Alaska, climate change has meant more rain, warmer temperatures and melting permafrost. And those are perfect conditions for mudslides. Torrential downpours this week triggered several mudslides that have devastated the tiny town of Haines, Alaska. Claire Stremple reports from member station KHNS.

CLAIRE STREMPLE, BYLINE: The mudslides washed out roads throughout town and they left a dark smear down the side of Mount Riley. Debris from destroyed homes floats in the sea below.


STREMPLE: A Coast Guard helicopter left at dawn on Thursday to resume the search for two missing residents. A local business owner, David Simmons, had a home on the mountainside. His dad, Randall (ph), spoke to him about two hours before the mudslide.

RANDALL: He called me and was letting me know that there's a lot of rain going on. And I said, thank God you're up in the hills. You're not down where the flooding is going to be. And I figured he was safe as could be.

STREMPLE: A few hours later, Randall got a phone call. The house had been swept away. His son and his tenant, local elementary school teacher Jenae Larson, were missing. Search efforts were called off on Thursday at nightfall around 3 p.m. in Haines to resume at first light Friday. The slide was triggered by record-breaking rain that fell onto the snowpack, saturating the soil. De Anne Stevens is a lead geologist for the state of Alaska. She says there have been mudslides in this region for decades. But...

DE ANNE STEVENS: What it seems to be happening, though, is that the frequency, possibly, may be - it functionally seems to be more common.

STREMPLE: Only one road runs in and out of Haines. It leads to the closed Canadian border. Emergency supplies must come by boat or small plane. More rain is expected in the area for the next week.

For NPR, I'm Claire Stremple in Haines.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARTHA SINES' "SEA OF REVIVAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Stremple