5 family members and a commercial fisherman neighbor are ID’d as dead or missing in Alaska landslide

by Ethan Kim
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Alaska landslide tragedy

Officials on Friday disclosed the identities of those who were either missing or deceased in a devastating landslide that occurred earlier in the week in southeast Alaska. The victims included a family of five and their neighbor, Otto Florschutz, a commercial fisherman who had previously contended for Alaska’s sole congressional seat.

The family, comprising parents Timothy and Beth Heller, along with their children Mara, 16; Derek, 12; and Kara, 11, were in their residence when the landslide hit the Wrangell island area. The search team discovered the bodies of the couple and their eldest child either late Monday or early Tuesday, while the two younger children and Florschutz, 65, are still missing, as stated by the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

Florschutz, who is a member of the Republican Party and had a history of serving on Wrangell’s Port Commission, was one of the 48 candidates in the race for the congressional seat that was left vacant following the death of U.S. Rep. Don Young. Florschutz garnered 193 votes out of nearly 162,000 cast.

In the aftermath of the landslide, which has been reported to have taken the lives of three individuals, officials have begun the process of debris clearance, with three people still missing.

Florschutz, in his campaign, highlighted his extensive experience as a commercial fisherman and his roles in community service, including boat repair, mechanics, welding, and carpentry. He emphasized his capacity for achieving consensus in his candidate statement to the Anchorage Daily News.

Beth Heller, who had previously served on the Wrangell School Board and the district’s parent advisory committee, co-ran a construction company named Heller High Water. Tyla Nelson, a close friend of Beth Heller since high school, remembered her as an exceptional mother and human being.

Wrangell School District Superintendent Bill Burr announced that counseling services would be offered to students and staff returning from the Thanksgiving break, acknowledging the profound impact of the tragedy on the community.

The landslide, which was estimated to be 450 feet wide, occurred amidst heavy rain and winds, tearing down a vast area of evergreen trees and impacting three homes, one of which was unoccupied. It also resulted in the blockage of a highway near Wrangell.

Approximately 35 to 45 residents have opted to remain in the area cut off by the landslide, relying on boats for essential supplies, according to Mason Villarma, the interim borough manager. The town’s geography necessitates using the ocean as the primary access route to these residences.

Debris removal efforts continued on the highway as of Friday.

This report was jointly covered by Sinco Kelleher from Honolulu, Bellisle from Seattle, and Gene Johnson, also based in Seattle.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Alaska landslide tragedy

Who were the victims identified in the Alaska landslide?

The victims included a family of five – Timothy and Beth Heller and their children Mara, 16; Derek, 12; and Kara, 11 – and their neighbor, Otto Florschutz, a 65-year-old commercial fisherman who previously ran for Alaska’s sole congressional seat.

What happened to the victims during the Alaska landslide?

The Heller family and Otto Florschutz were affected by a landslide near the Wrangell island community. The bodies of the Heller parents and their eldest child were found, while the younger children and Florschutz remain missing.

What was Otto Florschutz’s background and political involvement?

Otto Florschutz was a commercial fisherman and a Republican who served on Wrangell’s Port Commission. He was also a candidate for Alaska’s congressional seat, left vacant after U.S. Rep. Don Young’s death, and received 193 votes.

How has the Wrangell community responded to the landslide?

The Wrangell community, led by officials and the school district, has initiated debris clearing and is providing counseling for students and staff. Access to the affected area is currently limited to ocean routes, with boats supplying essential items.

What were the conditions during the Alaska landslide?

The landslide, estimated at 450 feet wide, occurred during significant rainfall and heavy winds, impacting three homes and blocking a highway. Wrangell received about 2 inches of rain with wind gusts up to 60 mph at higher elevations.

More about Alaska landslide tragedy

  • Alaska Department of Public Safety Statement
  • Anchorage Daily News: Otto Florschutz’s Candidate Profile
  • Wrangell School District’s Response to the Tragedy
  • National Weather Service Report on Wrangell Weather Conditions
  • Wrangell Community Support and Recovery Efforts

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