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Man's body pulled from debris of Alaska landslide; 12-year-old still missing

The body of Otto Florschutz was found just before 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the Alaska Department of Public Safety said. He is the fifth confirmed death.
Image: An aerial view of mud and forest debris that buried a stretch of the Zimovia Highway a day after a landslide struck an area of Wrangell, Alaska
An aerial view of mud and forest debris that buried a stretch of the Zimovia Highway a day after a landslide struck an area of Wrangell, Alaska, on Nov. 21.Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities via Reuters

Authorities recovered the body of a 65-year-old man from the debris of a landslide that swept through part of southeast Alaska last month.

The body of Otto Florschutz was found just before 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the Alaska Department of Public Safety said in a news release Friday. He is the fifth confirmed death of the Nov. 20 landslide.

One person, 12-year-old Derek Heller, remains missing, authorities said.

Wrangell Search and Rescue K9, Wrangell Search and Rescue volunteers, and an excavator assisted in the recovery of Florschutz's body.

Search and rescue volunteers and a scent detection K9 team are continuing with "reactive searching as any new information or evidence leads to a specific search area," the public safety department said.

Florschutz, a commercial fisherman, previously served on Wrangell’s Port Commission and was a candidate in the race to fill the congressional seat vacated by longtime U.S. Rep. Don Young's death last year. He received 193 votes out of nearly 162,000 cast, The Associated Press reported.

Three homes were hit by a landslide that struck just before 9 p.m. near the community of Wrangell.

Authorities identified the four other confirmed victims as family members Timothy Heller, 44; Beth Heller, 36; and their children Mara, 16; and Kara, 11. Their son, Derek, remains missing.

Florschutz was their neighbor, according to authorities. His wife, Christina Florschutz, survived the landslide.

Both families were at their homes when the landslide hit. The third home was unoccupied.

Christina Florschutz said she was getting dressed when she heard "a horrible noise." She told the Wrangell Sentinel and KSTV radio that the landslide slammed into the home and tossed her around "like a piece of weightless popcorn" before she lost consciousness.

When she woke up, she said she was trapped between the roof of her house and debris.

She told the newspaper and radio station that she managed to free herself and walked across the debris until a group of people found her, put her in a sled and dragged her to safety.

She has been recovering in the hospital.

The landslide, estimated to be 450 feet wide, occurred following heavy rain and winds in the area. It cut off about 54 homes from town. Around 35 to 45 people have chosen to stay in the area, said Mason Villarma, interim borough manager.