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6 missing after landslides swipe Alaskan town

The U.S. Coast Guard has launched rescue operations to Haines, Alaska, following landslides caused by heavy rain. Image courtesy of Google Maps/Website
The U.S. Coast Guard has launched rescue operations to Haines, Alaska, following landslides caused by heavy rain. Image courtesy of Google Maps/Website

Dec. 3 (UPI) -- At least six people were missing after several landslides caused by heavy rains and flooding smashed into the Alaskan town of Haines, authorities said.

One of the landslides has resulted in six people missing and four houses destroyed off of Beach Road, but Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday evening that they have suspended search and rescue operations due unstable ground, KTUU-TV reported.

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The Haines Borough Police Department has issued several evacuation orders as flooding and landslides washed out several roads and flooded homes on Wednesday. Officials warned residents to stay clear of land close to water as "the surface is very unstable and likely to fail."

"Please stay away from damaged roads and broken pavement," the Haines borough government said on Facebook.

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The U.S. Coast Guard said a Jayhawk helicopter crew has been launched to assist two Coast Guard cutters, which have been ordered to make preparations to set sail for Haines, a city some 92 miles north of Juneau.

"At this point we are aware that damage has occurred in the town of Haines following the report of multiple landslides in the borough," Capt. Stephen White, commander Coast Guard Sector Juneau, said in a statement. "The scope of the damage is unknown at this time but we are proactively moving several assets and personnel to provide assistance to local first responders and the residents who may have been impacted by the landslides."

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The landslides occurred as the area was inundated with rain.

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The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Watch until Thursday morning as between 7 to 10 inches of rain has been recorded in Haines in the last 36 to 48 hours.

"Saturated grounds from recent rains have caused debris flows blocking off major roadways. Additional debris flows and flooding are possible through Thursday morning near steep terrain," the NWS warned Wednesday night.

Alaskan Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he has spoken with Douglas Olerud, the mayor of Haines, and said all state resources will be made available.

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"That natural disaster unfolding in Haines and the broader southeast area has the full and complete attention of my administration," the governor said in a statement Wednesday evening. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haines tonight."

Olerud said crews would be working through the night but the rain was making it difficult.

He wrote in a statement that the town "is going to be needing lots of prayers."

"Please be patient with each other," he said. "These are stressful times but Haines will come together and help each other."

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