Authorities retrieved the remains of an 11-year-old girl, Kara Heller, on Saturday, November 25th, from the rubble of a recent landslide in Wrangell, Alaska.
The landslide, which occurred on Monday, November 20th, violently swept down a forested mountainside, devastating homes in an isolated fishing community.
Heller’s death marks her as the fourth member of the Heller family to perish in the disaster.
The search teams, aided by a K9 unit and an excavator, located Heller’s remains within the extensive debris field.
This discovery comes after the initial retrieval of 16-year-old Mara Heller’s body on Monday, the day of the landslide.
Subsequent searches led to the recovery of Timothy Heller, 44, and Beth Heller, 36, the following day.
According to Tim DeSpain, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, search teams continue their efforts to locate a third missing child from the Heller family, 12-year-old Derek, and their 65-year-old neighbor, Otto Florschutz.
Florschutz’s wife survived the disaster.
Efforts to find missing people have shifted from an active to a reactive search strategy.
On Friday, officials reported their efforts to remove debris from the road and mentioned that a scent detection K9 team is ready to resume searching if new information or evidence emerges.
The Alaska Department of Public Safety, in a statement, said, “While the active search is concluding, it remains a priority of the State of Alaska and your Alaska State Troopers to locate the three missing Alaskans so that we can bring closure to their families and the community.”
The statement continued, “Our deepest sympathies are with the families, friends, and loved ones of the three deceased and three missing Alaskans.”
According to the Department of Public Safety, the landslide not only claimed lives but also destroyed three homes along the Zimovia Highway.
Search operations included drones, helicopters, planes, ground teams with trained dogs, and water-based searches employing sonar technology.
The Alaska Department of Transportation reported that the landslide spanned an estimated 450 feet in width, leaving a large debris field.
The National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Park noted that the region had experienced heavy rainfall of over 3 inches in the 24 hours before the landslide, along with strong winds reaching up to 87 mph on the evening of the disaster.
In response to the disaster, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy declared a state of emergency in Wrangell on Tuesday, November 21st.
The state’s medical examiner’s office is conducting autopsies on the deceased to further investigate the circumstances of their deaths.