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Three Presumed Dead After Landslides in Sitka, Alaska

3 feared dead in Alaskan landslide 0:19

Three men missing following an Alaska landslide are presumed dead and the search will be a "body recovery effort," an official said late Tuesday.

The landslides began at around 10 a.m. Tuesday, after heavy rains in coastal town of Sitka, city spokeswoman Sara Peterson told NBC station KTTU.

Peterson later told The Associated Press that the missing men are presumed dead and the search will be one of body recovery — a determination based, in part, "from the force of the slide and that kind of impact."

At one point officials said four people were missing but then backed off to three.

"We have had about two-and-a-half inches of rain in the last 24 hours and that caused three landslides and a sinkhole," Peterson told KTTU.

A state of emergency was declared in Sitka, a town and borough of about 9,000 people located in the far southeast portion of the state, in a mountainous area. Gov. Bill Walker was due to travel to Sitka Wednesday to survey the damage.

"It’s a very grim situation. Our prayers are going to go out to all those in Sitka," Walker said. "I think the weather has changed a bit, but still concerned about potential additional slides," he said.

Chris Harshey, who is a carpenter, was working on a nearby home when the slide occurred.

"All of a sudden, I heard crackling and crumbling, and then the lights flickered," he told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. Harshey went outside to investigate and saw "a sea of large logs, mud, more logs and a slurry of muddy debris." The slide destroyed a home about 200 yards above him and damaged another home closer to him.

Image: A house under construction sits next to a landslide
A house under construction sits next to a landslide on Tuesday in Sitka, Alaska. James Poulson / The Daily Sitka Sentinel via AP)

The National Weather Service recorded 2.57 inches of rain over 6 hours by around 10 a.m. local time Tuesday at Sitka Airport.

"This type of landslide is typical for Alaska, especially our communities that are in our mountainous regions," Jeremy Zidek of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said. "They get a lot of rainfall, those mountain sides get saturated and then landslides can happen."