Four people in the Alaska community are missing after a series of landslides were triggered by rains Tuesday, authorities said. The four were working in a new-home development outside of a city in the Alaska panhandle when the avalanches began, CNN reports.
A family friend, Peter Turner, told New York Times that 62-year-old Sitka city building official William Stortz is among the four missing people. Turner also said that Stortz is the city fire marshal. The Daily Sitka Sentinel first reported his identity.
The other three are reportedly contractors who were working on the housing development.
Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt said that they are unable “to do anything on the ground as far as search and rescue because the ground is so unstable.” He added that Homeland Security is “coming in to assess the situation” and that they are “sitting tight right now because it’s so unstable and it’s continuing to rain.”
The landslides began at about 10 a.m. Tuesday. A city spokesperson, Sara Peterson, told NBC station KTTU that they have experienced “two-and-a-half inches of rain in the last 24 hours and that caused three landslides and a sinkhole.” Sitka’s city website also stated that one house was destroyed and another was damaged badly.
A state of emergency has been declared in Sitka, which includes a borough and town of roughly 9,000 people in the southeast part of the state, according to NBC News. Gov. Bill Walker is set to survey the damage in Sitka Wednesday.
Walker called the situation “grim.” “Our prayers are going to go out to all those in Sitka,” he said.
Jeremy Zidek of the Alaska Homeland Security and Emergency Management ensured that the kind of landslide that occurred is normal for mountainous areas. “They get a lot of rainfall, those mountain sides get saturated and then landslides can happen,” Zidek said. The National Weather Service recorded 2.57 inches of rain during a six-hour period Tuesday.