Notes From The Landslide
August 21 at 12:31pm
This town is amazing. Even in the most unexpected places people
are spreading love today. Came across this on my hike today...left it
there so someone else can receive a smile... #sitkastrong
Dedicated to the families of
Elmer & Ulises Díaz
By Peter Bradley
Like many people, I felt helpless in the face of the loss, uncertainty,
and devestation that the August landslides brought. I donated a
small amount of money to a couple of the funds, called the fire department
to see if I could help, and then resigned myself to waiting,
All the same, I found something to be hopeful about; it became
clear to me that in the face of this tragedy, the community was
coming together - to pool resources, share knowledge, raise funds,
process emotions, share in mourning, offer reflections and memories,
and to give thanks.
I found it beautiful and inspiring that in a terrible and upsetting
week, the town responded to a shared sense of vulnerability and
pain with love and generosity. In the midst of a week where guile,
antagonism, and scorn were not in play, I was drawn to Sitka Chatters
- a facebook group with a few thousand local members - as a
microcosm of the spirit of the community.
Recognizing that memories can be short, and that Facebook tends
to be ephemeral (usually a good thing), I decided to collect some
of what showed up on Sitka Chatters and in a few other places that
week. I’ve collected it here, organized it as best as I can, and left
a few notes here and there. I’ve also taken the liberty of including
some pieces from the Sitka Sentinel and Raven Radio, who - as always
- offered diligent and sensitive reporting throughout the week.
I’m thankful that in Sitka, every argument will have nine thousand
sides and every tragedy will have nine thousand hearts. My hope is
that - as we run into conflicts, as we try to collectively find answers
to difficult and divisive questions - we can remember the generosity,
kindness, and shared spirit of community that we saw in the
week of the landslide.
Four Missing In Sitka as Heavy Rain Triggers Landslide
Published by the Sitka Sentinel on Wednesday, 19 August 2015
By Shannon Haugland and Tom Hesse
Sentinel Staff Writers
EDITOR’S NOTE: After press time Tuesday the number of missing
in the Kramer Avenue landslide was reduced from four to three.
The names of the other two people missing in the slide were reported
as Elmer Diaz, 26, and Ulises Diaz, 25.
Four people were reported missing today after heavy rains caused
a landslide on Kramer Avenue that buried a house that was under
City Building Official William Stortz, 62, and three people who
were working on the house when the landslide struck at around
9:40 a.m. remained missing at press time today. The names of the
others were not released.
The Kramer Avenue slide was one of several around Sitka following
an overnight downpour recorded 2.59 inches between midnight
and 10 a.m. today. A second major slide closed Sawmill Creek Road
at the old APC mill site.
City officials estimated 100 workers and volunteers responded to
the emergency, which included landslides, flooding, road closures
and evacuations of buildings and neighborhoods.
“I would say this is definitely bigger than anything we’ve ever had in
Sitka,” Fire Chief Dave Miller said.
The city has asked Gov. Walker to declare a state of emergency in
The risk to rescue workers from the unstable debris at the Kramer
Avenue slide prevented immediate search efforts for the missing
men. At 2 p.m. today rescuers were still standing by, unable to dig
in the pile of earth and downed trees estimated at 20 to 25 feet
deep. The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter to survey the slide
“A couple of us walked the slide impact area where these people
were last seen, shouting for names of the people that were missing,
but due to the instability of the area we had to leave,” said City Administrator
Mark Gorman, who had gone to the area after the first
911 call came in.
Miller said rescue crews are concerned that there could be additional
slides above the area of the first one, which could put emergency
responders in harm’s way.
“Because it’s a slide area and it’s muddy as all get-out it’s still an
active slide area so we’re not digging and searching at this time. It’s
too dangerous,” Miller said.
The National Weather Service in Juneau said the threat of mud-
slides will continue through the evening.
The missing people were reportedly working on a house, in the
final stage of construction, that was totally destroyed by the
Kramer Avenue slide. The city public information office gave
the address of the house as 410 Kramer Ave., owned by Christine
If the governor declares a state of emergency, more resources
will come to Sitka, Gorman said. He expects immediate action
on the request in Juneau.
The major slides were on Halibut Point Road, Kramer Avenue
and Sawmill Creek Road at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park,
said Assistant Fire Chief Al Stevens. There was flooding in
several areas, and a large sinkhole was created in front of the
laundromat in the 900 block of HPR.
“Because of the heavy rains, we’ve had three major slides. The
slide on Kramer Avenue has taken out a house .... The slide on
Halibut Point Road is creating a bunch of flooding,” Stevens
told reporters this morning.
Sitka police received the 911 call reporting the Kramer Avenue
slide at 9:40 a.m. Within half an hour there were reports of the
slide at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park and along HPR near
Sandy Beach, along with reports of flooding and washouts from
clogged culverts throughout town. At 10:25 a.m. the fire hall
called in all engineers and volunteers.
Chris Harshey, a carpenter who was working at a house at 210
Kramer Ave., said, “All of a sudden, I heard crackling and crumbling,
and then the lights flickered.”
He said he went outside onto the front porch to see what was
happening and saw “a sea of large logs, mud, more logs and a
slurry of muddy debris.”
He watched the slide destroy the home about 200 yards above
him, and damage part of another house a little closer to him
before “taking off into the woods.”
He said he couldn’t tell if the slide would stop before reaching
him, or which direction to go to escape.
“Not knowing which way to go,” he stayed put, he said, adding
it was all over in four minutes.
The mudslide looked like online videos he had seen of slides
in other parts of the country. “All of a sudden it was real,” said
Harshey, who managed to video some of the slide on his own
Rodney Ady told the Sentinel he was jogging on the Cross Trail,
and came upon the Kramer Street slide about 20 minutes after it
“I’ve never come across a scene like that before. I was in a state
of shock when I came across it,” Ady said.
The Sitka FAA Flight Service Station measured 2.59 inches of rainfall
between midnight last night and 10 a.m. today. The National
Weather Service said nearly 1.5 inches of rain fell in one three-hour
period this morning.
By the time the slides were first reported, the rain had faded away
to a heavy mist and finally stopped by late morning as search and
cleanup efforts continued.
Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt said neighborhoods above Sandy
Beach, which are below the Kramer Avenue slide, were evacuated,
and an aid station was set up in Grace Harbor Church for rescuers,
and families and friends of the missing people.
At the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, flooding and road damage
prompted the Silver Bay Seafoods plant to shut down and evacuate
the bunkhouses, said Silver Bay Seafoods CEO Richard Riggs. Operations
were expected to resume tonight.
There were no injuries. One of the walls of the administration
building was smashed by the debris from upland of the slide and
some windows were broken, but all seafood plant workers were
accounted for, Riggs said.
Industrial Park Director Garry White said “a significant amount of
mud and sticks and debris slammed into the building and busted
out some windows,” causing some structural damage.
“The good news on our end of the road is everyone’s accounted for
and all we have is property damage,” White said.
Until it was cleared away, the slide had cut off road access to the
city’s hydroelectric plants.
Gorman said Sawmill Creek Road, which was closed at Whale
Park, was expected to be opened for emergency vehicles this
Reopening that road was the city’s second priority behind finding
the people missing on Kramer Avenue.
“We don’t have access to either hydro plant at this time, so that’s
a priority as well,” Gorman said. “We have to make sure our
utility grid is protected.”
As a precaution, the city removed private propane tanks from
the area near the sinkhole at the HPR laundromat.
Pumphouse alarms set off by the rain deluge were going off
throughout the morning, public works officials said.
Public access to Sitka National Historical Park, Indian River
Trail and Sawmill Creek Road were shut down during the first
stages of the slide and flooding emergency, but the park’s trails
were open again this afternoon. Additional trail damage was reported
near Heart Lake. The emergency also led city officials to
cancel two public meetings tonight. The Planning Commission
and the Citizens’ Task Force meetings will be rescheduled.
Miller said any new storm activity could make the situation
worse. The National Weather Service forecast calls for rain
tonight and Wednesday, with a 50 percent chance of rain Wednesday
night and stretching into Thursday. A break in the weather is
forecast for Thursday night with sun expected Friday.
Gorman asked for community support for the missing and the
search and recovery efforts during the days ahead.
“This is going to be a tough time for Sitkans in the next few days,”
Gorman said. “Do what Sitkans do well and support your neighbors.”
August 18 at 4:42pm
Please list below all homes that folks may evacuate to.
List your address and whether or not kids or pets are welcome.
Please delete your info as soon as your home is full. Thank you.
*those of you who are evacuating to hotels may private-message or
post on here to request funding for your stay. Lots of Sitkans are
messaging me who want to help with displaced locals”
“*** Charteris has room.”
“** Lifesaver dr Kids/dogs welcome (no cats please). I can keep
your dog if it doesn’t have a plAce can probably do 2 dogs”
“**** Georgeson loop can take 3. Kids and pets as well.”
“*** peterson ave.”
“**** HPR. Have taken in 2 people, have room for one more person
“I so love this town. I’ve been in tears for a while now.”
“No room for people but willing to take up to 2 dogs.”
“**** HPR one private room can accommodate up to 3, kids welcome.
Queen bed with twin hide-a-bed sofa, full private bath, full
kitchen and laundry. Room available tonight and tomorrow no
“I have a room with a twin bed could fit two if someone is willing to
use a sleeping bag. **** HPR”
“I have two rooms with queen beds . *** Kaasda Heen Circle they
are both upstairs ... children are welcome .. but I have two cats so
probably no pets.”
“*** Marine st. we could take a family of 4-6 lots of floor space.”
“The Fly In Fish in has 3 rooms available we will put any family in
need in these rooms”
“Room available for one person or couple with no.pets *** Lillian
“I have a big, flat back yard near downtown if anyone needs a place
to park their boats/ ATVs etc until you can get them home again.”
“**** SMC, one full size bed and a couch. Pet friendly, not child
“**** Edgecumbe dr apt B. I have a single hide a bed if someone
needs a place to stay. Or I can take the couch and a couple can take
my room. Sorry not pet friendly, I have two cats. give me a call or
text me. Oh and I have an army cot. Will be a tight fit but that is
available too. Or it can be borrowed.”
“I can stay with a friend so my whole house is open - one king size
bed and a couch...Pets and kids welcome **** HPR please call me if
anyone needs a place to stay!!!”
“Full size bed and roll away twin. Pet friendly *** Harvest way”
“*** Granite Creek Road. I have 2 extra rooms, 2 children, but they
can sleep with my husband, &’ I tonight. &’ I have 1 little dog who
sleeps with us, &’ is well tempered. Anyone is welcome to stay with
us. Message me if yall need anything.”
“An empty room and a small couch available at *** Peterson lower
unit. No pets tho, sorry.”
“*** HPR upper appt spare bedroom and two couches not a lot but
anyone’s more than welcome it’s clean and warm pets welcome kids
“**** Georgeson Loop.. Have lots of floor space and a sectional,
plus one room with a queen bed! Pets and kids ok, we do have cats
and rabbits and kids.”
“If needed, we could probably host quite a few at Sitka Assembly of
God, 214 Kimsham St. We have a big kitchen, bathrooms, no showers
and lots of floor space. Kids are welcome but no pets. Contact
me directly. We have some air mattresses and sleeping bags too.”
“We can make room if there’s still a need for places to stay. Kids and
dogs welcome too. Our dog probably wouldn’t go for having a cat in
the house though. I’d like to know what the immediate needs are--
housing? Meals? Would like to help however I can.”
“**** HPR. (There is one set of stairs) Pets and children welcome,
we have two dogs though! There is no fenced yard. One private
room with full bathroom and the kitchen/dining room is right
across the hall! Also have large living room, with sectional couch...”
“I could help with pets who do well with small children and a cat.”
“I have several rentals whose owners have offered their homes. Just
call and we’ll try to work you into a home.”
“*** Etolin Way, guest room available with trundle bed for two. No
“Please message me if in need of a place to stay. Lots of room, extra
“If family of missing is coming thru Juneau, I have a spare bedroom
with a full sized bed, near the airport and a possible ride depending
on the time to/from the airport. I do have a dog. I don’t always get
“We have 2 bedrooms available 1 with a queen size bed and 1 with
a full and twin no animals please young children, teens and adults
are ok not really baby proofed though there is a full kitchen and 2
bathrooms downstairs please private message me if you are in need.
We live out SMC Rd”
“Posted elsewhere, but have a 6 ft high good sized dog enclosure
with a sturdy house available if needed for a big dog or dog family.
We can watch your furry friend as long as needed. Let me know.”
“One couch and one room available for a woman and one or two
children if needed.”
“*** Shotgun Alley Two rooms with queen beds, one with bunk
beds and a single. Plenty of bathrooms, family room. All ages welcome.
We have two large, friendly dogs. Private message me.”
“We have a spare bedroom too!”
“I don’t have room for people, but can take dogs that are good with
other dogs (I have 2 labs)”
“near high school with queen sized bed. Couch available also.
Home already has 3dogs and a cat so more pets would be difficult.
PM me here.”
“Room available. Shower, etc. Pm me here.”
“We can offer pet care, kids clothing, and food.”
“I love my town!! This is what friends and neighbors do for those in
“We can take a person or two at the AmeriCorps house on Monastery
Street. We can’t take pets or children though. Message me if
you need to stay and I’ll sen the address.”
“People displaced, or traveling to Sitka to help; I have a spare room
w/ full sized bed, any ages welcome, pets fine, I have cat & birds.
Indian River subdiv’n, pm for details. No smoking inside.”
“The SAFV shelter has informed me that there is room at the shelter
for about 10 more women and children, extra counsellors on
hand, food and TV.”
“Have an outside pen for a big dog or dogs. Sturdy, dry house and
lots of love!”
“One bedroom furnished apartment - for professional rescue crew
“Our house is open to evacuees... *** Park Street. Furnished bedroom
with double bed. We also have a crib and pak’n’play, children
welcome. Possibly pets, no smoking.”
“The Totem Square Hotel would like to offer 3 rooms for any traveling
families of the missing, or any rescue personnel.”
“I would also like to offer meals to the immediate families at The
“My home is very small, but I can offer food , blankets and assistance
with pets for sure . I can also help with clean up if any is
“dios este con todos ustedes, me uno a su dolor desde aca, mex.
yo vivi en sitka hace unos años ..me duele lo ke estan pasando por
“I just got back to town today and I have room at my home, for
people and pets, **** HPR”
“I have extra room, spacious living room, and all creatures welcome
in a very serene location. Message me.”
“Extra room, pets welcome, downtown. Message me.”
“Reading all these comments is making me cry way down here in
Florida... Makes me miss home all the more. Thank you for taking
care of each other and for proving that Sitka is full of wonderful
August 18 at 7:09pm
I am honestly amazed by the amount of love and compassion people
have for each other in this town. Seriously beautiful. So lucky to
August 18 at 12:38pm
I love this town and the people in it. It is a bit overwhelming seeing
all these offers to help. Sitkans are the best.
August 18 at 11:37pm
“Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished
by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.” ~~ Unknown
Tonight, I drove by the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department at
10:30pm, well well after a compassionate informational message by
SVFD Chief Dave Miller to the crowd of friends, and personal message
to the families of those missing four individuals........................
and saw a full parking lot and then some. Professional volunteers,
still meeting, still planning....for tomorrow.
It’s a heavy heart, as a dad, as I think of this moment. I spent my
afternoon and evening with so many friends......fellow friends of
two close brothers, adults like Ed Conway, John Wathen, and others
who were completely involved with these two brothers growing
up......these two missing souls who were immensely involved in my
son’s wedding - one a groomsman, the other completely involved
for the ride of Nicholaas’ moment - both spending inordinate
amounts of time on my couch the last several years....... It is truly
a heart breaking moment for all of these young adults.....and the
adults like Ed and John who “ran with them” in the world of athletics.........to
know that tonight - they remain missing........these
two smiling, loving life large, being all that they can be........kind
of brothers. They are a match - these brothers. When it comes to
appreciating life......they are a match made from above.
Taking life for granted is something we never will take again, nor
should we ever.............yet, we hold out hope, because there is hope
to be had, in spite of the challenge of this moment.............there is
hope to be had. Yes, it is a sliver of hope within the incredibly horrific
moment that we are in....but hope it is.....and it’s worth hanging
on to......for these two and those other two souls, from this morning’s
moment. I know not what else to call it other than “wow.”
It’s hard to put into words what the moment is........this moment. To
hear the pain in Anthony and Nicholaas’ voices......to feel it.....and
to experience the pain in so many of these young adults.... --- life is
in front of all of them, not behind them..........and yet in this moment,
life has challenged them all - with this moment.
It was painful to listen to Dave Miller visit with the mom directly
and to take ownership of the decision to stop for the night.....a
painful one, given the near tears in his voice......to explain the “why”
and to be forthright and honest about the moment......and that is
life for all of us.......in anything we do, and want........ that there are
unexpected moments that affect us individually and affect us all.
I cannot, nor do I want to, imagine being in Chief Miller’s shoes
when he is making these decisions.......they impact all of my son’s
friends and they impact my sons - let alone these two that are
somewhere in there. We want to believe that there is hope........there
is always hope.
And tonight, when I find myself emotionally worn out, tired from
being a dad and a friend to these good kids......from the emotions of
the day - I drove by the fire hall......and I saw a packed parking lot,
and know - there is a crowed firehall full of volunteers that are not
willing to give up yet and will risk their lives again tomorrow......
to find these four souls, including my sons’, and their good friends’
two incredible friends.
Hope.............it’s a good thing for the soul. Always.
August 19 at 10:16am
Remember folks, community trauma can have an impact. For
myself, every time j hear another siren, I feel my nervous system
responding. If you need to vent, to talk, call a friend, call safv, take
care of yourselves. It’s ok and normal to have a wide gamut of feelings
and reactions as this progresses.
August 19 at 10:31am
Also, our children have big ears and pick up easily on stress. Reassure
them that they are safe, allow the sadness as u see fit, sometimes
extra time with board games or coloring will bring about a
sense of normalcy.
August 19 at 1:53pm
Tonight at 6:00 pm Brave Heart Volunteers is hosting a space for
Sitkans,friends, and neighbors to stand together in community and
support during this difficult time. This will be held at Totem Square
Park, across from the Pioneer Home.
August 19 at 12:12pm
It’s been a very somber 24 hours. I didn’t sleep well last night as I
am sure most of you could identify with. I couldn’t stop thinking
about the families of those who are missing and those who have
been displaced. Truly my heart is breaking for you all. It is true
what they say, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.
I have never been more proud to be a part of such an amazing
community! When I took food down to the fire hall last night I
passed many others doing the same thing. When I have checked
the status on face book I see so many offering their homes, money,
food, time, anything they can to help. It’s in these moments that we
define ourselves as a community; it’s in these moments that we can
truly make a difference. As a citizen I would like to say thank you to
all who have been so quick to assists in this heartbreaking tragedy.
Love is truly the answer and our little community is full of it! I love
August 19 at 6:19pm
I just want to make a big shout out to not only the police, fire, and
sar but to also the city and state (Zane Bacon Nick McGraw, Rod
Ellis, Steve Bell, Merill Rice, Nick Kepler and many more) personnel
that are also working long hours to help clean up the roads.
Thank you for all that you do.
Kim Machado Crews
August 19 at 1:54pm
Saint Gregorys, will be offering mass tonight, Thursday and Friday
from 7 pm to 8 pm for all the community that has suffered through
this tragic event. All is welcomed. God Bless.
Vienna L Vaden
August 19 at 10:18pm
This city is L O V E. The volunteers who are using PTO to be part
of an “operation” involving a diesel spill and multiple landslides and
the supervisors who are making allowances for volunteers to do
what they’ve been trained to do.......working side by side with city,
state and federal government employees. The families who have
opened their homes to displaced families and/or pets. The business’
and individuals who are baking and cooking for the folks at the
firehall and those at grace harbor. In the face of unbearable loss, we
are are a united in our efforts to support one another. I am so proud
of this community.
Vienna L Vaden
August 22 at 1:54pm
I walked thru the Firehall this morning. I was up with most of these
men last night until 3:00am assisting with the SAR operation for
the guy who jumped off the bridge. These same people were back
at the firehall at 8:00am. It’s been a busy busy week: a diesel spill,
multiple landslides, loss of life, one person still missing from the
landslides, car accidents and the usual EMT calls and finally a SAR
call for a missing jumper.
When you see someone from the firehall. Thank them!! I can’t
make gravy......but if I could I would bring Al Stevens a bucket full.
He is like the duracell battery that just keeps going and going. Chief
Miller was out early this morning as well after a full week of dealing
with the landslides.
The employees and volunteers of Sitka Fire Department are amazing
people who give and give tirelessly.
August 20 at 12:31am
“Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while,
so that we can see Life with a clearer view again.” ~~ Alex Tang
A challenging time, we all know that. At the time I made my last
post, the crew was coming off the hilll to give room to the SAR
dogs at 8pm and those incredible dogs did their job almost immediately.
Sadly.........one of two brothers is home. Elmer was recovered. A
mother and father and the family, while devastated in the moment,
will find comfort in time, that he was brought home by these
incredible rescue workers. His sweetheart will find solace, in time,
knowing that the compassion of their friends drove them hard, in
friendship and wanting to find him, that got them there.......to bring
him home, for Kori and for the Diaz family.
The effort has ended this night and will start early in the morning
with the professionals and the SAR dogs. It’s believed that the dogs
immediately dialed into the possible location of the other two.
Thus, in the early morning, the excavators, the dump trucks, the
loaders.....will get after it, after the SAR dogs are given a chance to
further pinpoint probable location. It had to end tonight because of
the danger of the liquidity of that mud in the very location that they
were able to find and bring one home - they believe the other two
are in that same narrow area but they have to lower the height of
the mud to make it safe to get in there. Four teams are ready to go
in again - Elmer and Uli’s friends.......in support of the professionals
- at 9am once the SAR dogs and support staff have done their
job. And then, they will work.......they will bring Uli and William
It’s a hard thing to be involved in - helping find your friend with the
slimmest of hopes..........and yet so many of these young adults have
banded together in this effort.....to be at the ready to help when
needed. Yet, they all were, and are, hungry to bring their friends
home. Resiliency.......the tears were hard tonight for all of us.....yet,
the tears also shed a light on understanding the importance of accomplishing
the mission - bring them home. Amazing bond - this
friendship among all these friends of my sons. So many of them
have spent many nights in my living room growing up and it is an
incredible sense of “family” to see them all pull together for their
I wish I had better news....I really do, to share with you. Yet, this is
an important thing to do to get to closure and they all see it. They
all are understanding it, through their tears......to work to accept
I love my sons. I love their friends. I’m proud of them in such a
difficult moment for them, for the Diaz family, for the Stortz family,
for so many friends and extended family.....in how they have hung
If they can do this, band together, support each other.....and do this,
as painful as it is - to lift up their friends - in a tragic moment, that
is a good thing to see..........even through our tears, we will see Life
in a more clear view ........................again.
Search For 3 Starts in Slide Aftermath
Published by the Sitka Sentinel on Thursday, 20 August 2015
By Shannon Haugland and Tom Hesse
Sentinel Staff Writers
Search and recovery efforts for three men lost in Tuesday’s Kramer
Avenue landslide were under way today despite continuing concerns
about the stability of the terrain in the slide area.
Efforts to remove the earth and log debris at the site where the men
were last seen began this afternoon, while a team of search and rescue
climbers accompanied geologists in inspecting the slide area to
assess its stability. In the debris field crews worked to remove logs
and material. A search dog team also began canvassing the area late
City Administrator Mark Gorman said the recovery workers were
being “a little more aggressive” in removing the debris where a
house was buried by the debris.
“We’re working both sides of the slide,” Gorman said.
A witness to the 9:30 a.m. slide said he saw one of the missing men,
William Stortz, 62, in the area as the slide occurred.
“It is a very good idea of where he was last seen,” Gorman said.
Stortz was working in his capacity as the city building official. The
two other victims, Elmer Diaz, 25, and Ulises Diaz, 26, were working
on the house, which was in the final stages of construction.
In a press conference this morning, Fire Department Chief Dave
Miller said low-hanging clouds were obscuring the view of the slide
area from the air as Coast Guard helicopter crews attempted to get
a read on the level of hazards in the search area, which is at the foot
of Harbor Mountain.
“We haven’t been able to see the top of the slide area because of the
clouds,” Miller said. “The Coast Guard has been flying nonstop up
there right now waiting for one cloud to break. So they’re going to
climb up there to look. We don’t know how far that is. That hill is
about 3,000 feet, give or take, and it looks like it goes a long way up
there, so they’re going to see.”
Three rescue climbers, along with a geologist from the Haines District
of the U.S. Forest Service and another geologist employed by
the state, have gone up the mountainside to inspect the area from
the top of the slide area, Miller said. The search for the missing men
was stalled because of concerns about the risk of further slides.
Miller told reporters he’d spoken with responders who worked on
the Oso landslide in Washington state last year about searching in
unstable areas. He said there was frustration about having to wait to
“I’ve been involved with the fire department – the Sitka Fire Department
– for 28 years in some form or another, and I think yes-
terday was one of the hardest days of my life,” Miller said. “I had
to talk to those family members and say, I’m so sorry. First for
what happened and then that we’re not allowing those teams to
go in and start looking for your family members.”
Last night a portion of the slide debris shifted approximately 10
more feet, officials said. As of this morning a dam of logs and
mud stacked 12 to 15 feet high marked the bottom of the slide
at the intersection of Jacobs Circle and Kramer Avenue. City
engineers, EMS crews and search and rescue volunteers remained
at the site developing a plan to search. As efforts began,
evacuation routes were marked and ambulances were posted in
the event of another slide.
Ken Fate, volunteer public information officer for the city emergency
response task force, said early efforts to remove debris
near the base of the site had begun but crews were working
cautiously until geologists determine the safety of the area. As
of press time today the geologists had started coming down the
mountain, but there was no word on what they had found.
As crews were climbing, additional work began to improve the
drainage of rain water trapped in the slide area.
“The latest word is that they are working to relieve some of the
water pressure that has built up at the end of the slide,” Fate
said. “They’re going to try to dig a trench to reroute some of the
runoff away from that area and into existing infrastructure in
hopes that that will help the neighborhood down below experience
less water running through those systems.”
Miller said water coming down the hillside remains a high concern
for crews on-site.
“The ground is super-saturated with water, still. Although it is
drying out now, it’s still real wet,” Miller said.
Officials said the mud slurry left by the slide has dried out in
the 24 hours since the slide. More than 2.5 inches of rain fell in
the 24 hours before the slide, but less than a tenth of an inch of
rain was recorded the rest of the day, Sitka Flight Service Station
Miller said the water is draining away better than expected.
Earlier in the day crews were concerned about the hazard posed
“Draining water is really going pretty good naturally,” Miller
said. “The mud that was there was soupy yesterday, today it’s
drying out. It’s cracking like pudding left out.”
Miller estimated that approximately 25 homes have been evacuated
as a precaution below the slide area. Most of those homes
are in the Sand Dollar Drive neighborhood. City officials are
permitting residents to return to their homes briefly to collect
whatever possessions they need, but the area is expected to
remain unoccupied until more is known about the slide area.
Ariel Starbuck, who lives about a half-mile from the slide area
at 2168 HPR, said she and the rest of her family are anxious to
get back into her home, but she also wants to make sure it’s safe.
She’s been calling search authorities every three hours for news.
“My gut reaction is we’re going to be OK,” Starbuck said. “But I
would like to hear that from a geologist. ... I want to get a geologist’s
report, see what the stability is, and look at the drainage issue.”
She was supposed to close Thursday on the purchase of the house
she’s been renting, but the slide has given her pause and she wants
to make sure it’s safe. “I can’t buy a house I can’t live in,” she said.
The Kramer Avenue slide was one of six landslides around Sitka on
Tuesday. Another, at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, closed Sawmill
Creek Road and heavy rains also caused a sinkhole the size of
a van in the 900 block of Halibut Point Road. No injuries have been
Initial reports were that four men were missing. Gorman said that
number was reduced to three after responders discovered that confusion
about one of the men’s names had led to the thought that a
fourth person was missing.
The National Weather Service is forecasting scattered showers
tonight with winds up to 15 miles per hour. A 50 percent chance
of rain is forecast for Thursday, and Friday is expected to be sunny
with rain beginning late Friday and early Saturday.
“We’re waiting for those two teams of people to tell us that it’s safe
to dig,” Miller said. “We have a limit. Friday it’s supposed to start
raining again so that could change everything.”
Fate said the public can help the dislocated families and emergency
workers by making food donations to the Salvation
The following items are most needed, he said: bread, lunch
meat, hamburger meat, rice, mixed vegetables, granola bars,
apples, oranges, Gatorade, bottled water, bags of chips, cans of
soda, brown bags, sandwich bags, and packets of mustard and
Starbuck said she has been overwhelmed and “touched” by the
scores of calls of support she has received, including offers of
clothing, food and a place to stay.
“It’s really overwhelming, it’s so awesome,” she said. “You know
Sitka is such a great community.”
At 6 p.m. tonight at Brave Heart Volunteers is “hosting a space
for Sitkans, friends and neighbors to stand together in community
and support in this difficult time.”
August 20 at 3:50pm
“Our attitude toward life, determines Life’s attitude toward us.” ~~
John N. Mitchell
“The Fabulous Diaz Brothers,”......a quiet comment by my son,
Anthony, as we ended yesterday, inside the Grace Harbor sanctuary
appreciating the photos at a makeship memorial for the Diaz brothers.......as
we quietly, arm in arm, thought of these two great friends
of his and his older brother, Nicholaas. He said it with a quiet smile,
reflecting on this incredible pair of brothers..............after a long
day of helping dig in the mud, helping bring one of them home......
Tears yes, difficult and emotional ones for so many - the families,
the loved ones, the friends, the extended circle of friends - all of
Sitka are friends in this moment......
And today......they were able to bring home Uli. A difficult, yet
inevitable moment this early afternoon, when Uli was located,
recovered, and brought home........ more tears, sorror, and reflective
thoughts by family, friends and the extensive group of volunteers...........
What is appreciated is how focused the overall Incident Command
was in gearing up “at the crack of dawn,” yet again, and having
2 teams of Uli and Elmer’s friends ready to go this morning, to
support that effort. The SAR dog teams had done their job well
and it was a focused area to locate and bring home Uli this early
afternoon.......I spent time down at the firehall and cannot begin to
explain my profound gratitude for the professional volunteers that
are always “at the ready,” to help when help is needed. Over 100
volunteers within the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department, SAR, EMS,
USCG, USFS, and related organizations were involved in this effort,
plus the well more than 50, heading toward 100 volunteer friends
of Uli and Elmer, ready to work in support - to bring their friend
home to family and loved ones.........
Two of three missing Sitkans, the Diaz Brothers are now home. The
effort continues to press on for William. The challenge of deep mud
and debris will make it a hard one, yet I see the resolve in these
volunteers - to bring them all home.........and some weather will hit
by tomorrow evening.
I think of all those nights of my sons, the Diaz Brothers, and that
circle of friends..........doing their thing, having fun, enjoying life.
“Did the Diaz Brothers ever doing anything quietly?” was a quietly,
smiling thought by one as they thought of their friends, Elmer and
Uli. Gregarious, Electric Personalities, Smiling, Intensely fun, Get-
After-It kinds of brothers. I personally think of all those evenings at
my place, watching them doing their thing with my sons......Just flat
fun. Just flat fun.......
It’s a sad day today, to bring home the second of the two “Fabulous
Diaz Brothers,” yet the quiet smile is that they are home now. Closure
is important and with this titanic effort by their friends, they
are now home - for the families and for the friends - they are home,
together. There is one more Sitkan to bring home and that effort
For now - I quietly smile at that thought - that The Elmer and Uli
personalities were “loud and proud,” in how they approached living.
Always in fifth gear, always with smiles and a great attitude toward
life......and Life rewarded them with a great life. Always smiling,
always doing, always being in their gregarious, smiling way, “The
Fabulous Diaz Brothers.” Truly, their attitude toward life was an
Cheers to Elmer and Uli for being incredible friends to my sons
and to never fearing life and always living it fully. Let’s bring William
August 20 at 3:57pm
In a town the size of Sitka, it’s easy to begin to believe that I know
every last soul here. I don’t, though. I really only know what I call
the 400. It’s an arbitrary number, in a way, but also not really - it’s
about the number of people you can fit into Centennial Hall to
watch a Sitka Summer Music Festival concert or eat at the Raven
Radio Members Dinner. And it’s precisely those folks that I know.
They drink their coffee in my shop, they buy their books at Old
Harbor. And among them there are a few - maybe, say, 35, maybe as
high as 50 - who are the ones who present you with a can of freshly
smoked salmon from a jacket pocket, or who wade knee deep to
help you hitch a boat when you’ve never done it before. They pull
their worktrucks up so you can haul a mattress, feel comfortable
correcting your misbehaving child, call to tell you they like your
show, ask if you’ve read the latest. William Stortz is one of my 35.
I could set a clock by him. Every weekday morning for many, many
years, I’ve made him a double Americano at 7:30. When he worked
at SEARHC, I refilled his cup at 7:50. When he moved to the city,
I started doing it at 7:55. At 10, it was time for a chocolate chip
cookie or a peanut butter bar, a mocha if it was Friday, to celebrate
the end of the week. He is an integral part of my day. The last two
days, there’s been a missing tick in my internal clock. Some tiny but
important part of my life is absent.
I’m grateful for my 400 people - and for your 400, overlapping
mine, and for your neighbor’s, overlapping yours. These rippling
circles on our town pond make us a community that set us apart
from other places. What I know about William - apart from his
love of strong coffee and scones with nuts in them - is that his love
for his people, this rippling pond, was fierce and steady. Let’s throw
some rocks for him and make the ripples bigger, okay? Thanks, you
guys. I love you.
August 20 at 7:43am · Sitka, AK
As I have been watching the events of the past few days unfold and
the outpouring of support for our neighbours. I thought Boston
was strong after the bombings last year, Columbine high school
rose up to excellance after the shootings years ago. We Sitkans have
held a standard high above any adversity and will continue to do so.
We are Sitka and we are strong!
August 20 at 9:25pm
I am totally amazed by the generosity of our community.
As the local Food Safety Officer, I have been in contact with the
Salvation Army, Fire Hall, and Grace Harbor. They all ask that you
contact them before taking food to them. They have had to dispose
of some food due to a lack of refrigeration or ways to keep the food
hot. The last thing we need on top of everything is food caused
Thank you all for everything you are doing. Questions? 747-8614
August 20 at 12:05pm
Thank you Sitka for your support during this time. The wonderful
ladies at Alaska Airlines Sitka Terminal were able to assist us in getting
7 family members toSitka. We have extended out to the Storz
family to get family by their side for support. Again thank you Sitka
and all the wonderful people who have reached out and donated
miles. You all are angels and a blessing to our community!#sitkastrong
August 20 at 10:19pm
I don’t follow Facebook much but the last few days I find my self
looking wondering why? I have kept quiet. Wednesday I drove thru
town . it was a numbing feeling very different. Tourist walking but
not the regular hustle and flow. Sitka is in pain . I pray for the missing.
I pray for healing. I pray for safety of the rescue crew. I don’t
know any of the missing but reading post its amazing how many
people are affected. I am blessed to live in such a wonderful loving
caring community. You all are in my prayers.
Jennifer Jarvis Barnette
August 21 at 8:06am
I have only lived here a year. I was a travel nurse here quite a few
times and just couldn’t leave after my last contract and took a
permanent position . The outpouring of help, love, care, and the
strength of the community pulling together after this tragedy has
AMAZED me. Thank and bless you all who are helping in every
Prayers and thoughts to the families and friends of those who lost
their lives. Prayers also to those who are having a lot of anxiety and/
or having a difficult time sleeping since this occurred.
August 21 at 12:18pm
Sitka and it’s residence are really great for moral. I had a difficult
morning and stopped by highliner for a drink. Someone had
bought my drink. Thank you for making my day. I was even able to
smile through my stressors the rest of the morning. How wonderfully
thoughtful and unselfish. I loved it.
August 21 at 12:40pm · Sitka, AK
I just finished volunteering with the Salvation Army making lunches
for the rescue crews. It sounds like they need volunteers for
dinner service, but I’m not sure what time that would be. If you’re
interested, I would call them at 747-3358. I called this morning and
someone picked right up. There are some pretty amazing, generous,
kind-hearted people volunteering there and the amount of food
that has been donated so far is astounding. The outpouring of love,
compassion and selflessness is one of the many things that makes
this community so special. I moved here on a whim less than 3
years ago without a job (a leap of faith, if you will), and I’m so
thankful I did.
August 21 at 7:04am
Whoever “paid it forward” at Highliner this morning. Thank you so
much! You are wonderful! My faith in humanity increases each day
I live in Sitka. How can so many amazing people happen to live in
one small place? BTW, this person paid forward $300.00 this morning
for all patrons of Highliner Coffee. You are my hero whoever
Koali Pontual Thorne
August 21 at 7:52pm
The loss of 3 beautiful Sitkans ...
Has left me at a loss for words this week ... Observing, feeling, praying,
pondering. How beautiful and awesome is life but also how
fleeting and fragile. All of us here by pure grace. No guarantees.
Any day could be our last. What matters most is simply the light
and love we are able to beam upon one another while we are here
together. It seems those guys were all really good at that.
I didn’t personally know William or the Diaz Brothers but as all Sitkans
know, we are interconnected by a matter of few degrees. Elmer
had just been to the spa a few weeks ago to receive a massage. His
girlfriend, Kori, is one of our regular beauties. I know their love
story from our chats and my heart breaks for her.
I have been observing in awe the generosity and goodness of the
people of Sitka offering up their support--in word and deed--but
have been unsure how to contribute and have hesitated to write
anything ... It feels so tragic, so sad, so big that I didn’t want to trivialize
it with a Facebook post.
But then again, I realize this is our tool and I am thankful for it. I
am thankful we can commune here. And I believe it makes a difference
to those closest to William, Elmer and Ulises to have all this
love beamed at them.
And so I would like to contribute by offering facials this Sunday, all
proceeds to go to their families. I will be offering the Express Facial
(60min) so I can do the most treatments that day. The treatment is
$85. If you would like to book one please call the spa (747-2638) on
Saturday between 10am-2pm to reserve your time.
Sending Love & Light, Koali
August 20 at 7:56am
I have a gripe. I went to the fire hall to help. They took my name
and number along with hundreds of others. I would have done
some very dangerous shit in hopes of finding a survivor. I don’t
have bureaucracy and red tape holding me back. I went to the
Salvation Army and did what I could there. I do realize that I would
most likely make things worse on an unstable flurry of mud and
some of the toughest trees in the world. I don’t see a clear solution
to this problem so it is just a gripe. I know Sallys and Grace harbor
church could use donations and there is a fundraiser that I will
August 20 at 8:01am
It’s really hard to feel helpless. Just keep in mind that charging
in and then getting in trouble puts other lives at risk. For
better or worse, the go slow pace of the rescue workers is a
necessary action to ensure that other lives are not put at risk.
Those with the necessary expertise and skills to help ARE
helping. Doing ‘dangerous shit’ only distracts them from the
task at hand.
August 20 at 8:08am
I am not able to help and I feel helpless. I have been praying
for the safety of everyone.
Shanna Vetter Tadic
August 20 at 8:08am
Well said Beth. It is so hard not to help. Space up on Kramer
is limited. Even some of those rescue workers/emergency
responders are standing by for periods of time while the excavator
is working or other decisions are being made. Clean
up and recovery of the missing will just take time. And that
is hard, but necessary.
August 20 at 8:14am
I’m glad that your head led your heart, Fred. Talking about
it helps, so does knowing that you’re not the only one who
feels frustrated or helpless or even scared right now. Keep
talking, keep griping. Even though it might feel pointless,
even small actions like expressing how you feel are helpful
because it allows other people to open up and talk about
how they’re feeling too.
August 20 at 8:21am
I know the feeling I’m a timber cutter out of Oregon have a
lot of experience with situations like that would have loved
to go help out sometimes sacrifices should be made in situations
like this I really hope they get in their soon and give
those family’s some closure thanks for the post I understand
your frustration I to would get pretty dirty on this
August 20 at 8:39am
It is a tough feeling Fred of not being able to help right now
at this very moment, but you did the right thing by going
to the next place where you could help. I think everyone is
feeling the same way wanting to help/feeling unable to help.
Thank you for posting of the other fundraisers, because for
me ( a person without physical strength or skills) I can only
donate and offer a place to stay. Lots of prayers to everyone.
And if you do go out to help stay safe.
August 20 at 8:43am
I can see the top of the slide from where I am at. I could
hike up there, but then what? I also see a good, forked creek
coming down that slide. Hope nobody else gets hurt and if
those people buried have an air pocket and water they could
August 20 at 8:48am
I am a team member and didn’t get deployed yesterday. Try
not to feel bad about it. The names and numbers may still
get called. There are a lot of people who want to help. That is
what I love about this town. Thank you for your attempt to
help. They may need you later.
August 20 at 8:50am
Fred, you put into words what I feel in my heart. I know that
if our hearts could lead all of Sitka would be out there digging.
But for now the thought will have to count I suppose.
Lord knows I feel so helpless and wish I could do more than
what I am.
Lisa Den Herder Zbylski
August 20 at 9:14am
For those of us who grew up in Sitka and now live out of
state, we feel pretty helpless too...all we can do is sit by and
wait for updates on here
August 20 at 10:00am
Going cautiously is smart. Running in will get people killed.
A dead hero is no help. It breaks everyone’s heart. The Fire
hall and Coast Guard and SAR and police...everyone is doing
their best. Don’t be angry. We have to work together and
August 20 at 10:05am
I have noticed an increase in the number of car accidents
and people getting pulled over by SPD in these past 3 days.
Don’t let your emotions take over your life. If you are too
upset to drive, stay off the road, talk with someone and try
to work it out before getting behind the wheel. Speeding and
doing crazy stuff will help no one.
Deborah Den Herder
August 20 at 10:10am
Thanks Kate and Kathy you are right. Two accidents this
morning. we are all emotional right now, and we ALL want
to help. I’m old enough with bad knees, so I knew I couldn’t
do much, but found a little way to help. I stopped by the fire
hall today. I know food is probably still pouring in (heard
they had two tables full of food yesterday), but maybe today
they won’t have as much, or tomorrow, or the day after, so
it might be a good time to help out then. Boy, maybe we
should bake some really good cookies for the folks at the fire
hall, or whatever we can do! I encourage everyone to fit in
with those in charge!
August 20 at 10:12am
Well time to go unload a plane instead of pulling out survivors.
Life can be like an algebraic equation. One does a little
on one side and another on the other...Know what I mean?
Debbi J Bbrewer
August 20 at 11:40am
I agree with all of you. If you asked any of us. We would be
on top of that mountain 2 days ago. But the hill is still so
unstable. They did not want more people hurt. I think we
all want to give them anything and we feel so helpless down
here. We just have to give them what we can. Lots if love and
prayers! God bless the people of sitka
August 20 at 12:31pm
One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that the people
doing the rescuing are members of our community and they
are also frustrated by the slow progress and heartbroken by
the situation. They’re looking for friends, family members,
work colleagues, people their kids grew up with. There are
guys up there searching who days ago were running for
Please don’t let your frustrations or grief about the situation
turn into emotions that could be construed to be anti those
carrying out rescue operations. We need those people to be
measured, safe and smart so that we do not end up grieving
more members of our community. For that, they need our
support not our criticism.
There are very valid reasons why they’re being cautious,
some of those reasons are hard to hear but they have to realistic
about safety for themselves and the rest of the community.
We don’t want to end up grieving more people than we
August 20 at 7:13pm
People have been asking what they can do to help us respond
to the flooding and mudslides in Sitka. If you are
in Sitka bring sandwich supplies, drinks, sandwich bags,
snacks and napkins over to the Corps. For people outside
of Sitka, a cash donation is the best way to go. We created a
link for you contribute directly to this effort.
August 21 at 7:19am
Good morning Sitka Chatters,
I would like to share a few resources with all of you who are
helping or would like to help.
Feel free to add to these in the comments below.
If you are delivering food please call ahead to determine
where foods can go and what the best meals/items are.
*Grace Harbor (747-5706) and the Fire Department (747-
3233) accept hot foods. *The Salvation Army (747-3358)
accepts packaged foods.
*The Salvation Army is a great place to volunteer--they
can certainly use the help at times. Please call ahead before
*Here is a list of some of the places you can donate (and
this is not comprehensive, feel free to add to this list in the
So far there are several places to donate to.
I’ve been given these as suggestions:
City of Sitka fundraiser
Greater Sitka legacy fund (501 c3)
Sitka Chatters Emergency Fund (either by the Go Fund Me
page or at First Bank)
There are accounts set up at ALPS as well as Wells Fargo.
Tomorrow night there will be a five-band concert benefit.
Show up, donate $20, and enjoy the show.
There are also cards to sign at Evergreen through tomorrow
for the Stortz and Diaz families. Once the funds are closed
out from the Sitka Chatters Emergency Fund, a portion will
go to each family in those cards. They will be delivered with
a “From Sitka and beyond.” If you donated, helped, sent out
positive thoughts/prayers etc, it would be lovely for you to
put your name on the cards (if you are not from Sitka I can
add your name as well as your city/state.)
Thank you all.
A change in the weather here in Sitka. extraordinary rains for days,
but today there is a pause. Rescue workers swarm the scene of a
major mud slide and at the same time they try and dry their clothes
a bit as they eat their donated lunches outside in the Baptist Church
parking lot ...
... There was a whirlpool of deep water in the parking lot in front of
the laundromat. Kids on bikes with their forearms resting on the
handlebars were staring into the gyre as if it were a burning fire.
Its water was sucking chunks of pavement down into a hole in the
street and the kids did not move or say a word. Sirens blared and
police cars were tearing down the street. People walked aimlessly
down the street without their raincoats and stopped to talk with
one another oblivious of whether they had rain gear on or not. As I
drove north toward my house, I noticed rivulets of chocolate brown
mud spilling out onto the street and I saw the police Lieutenant
hugging a woman who appeared to be crying. The jailer, a friendly
man I know well, was directing traffic, standing in the rain without
a hat on, wearing only a windbreaker, getting soaked to the skin.
He had a stricken look on his face and did not wave back when I
passed. Something was terribly wrong.
The road to my house was closed. I went to the grocery store.
Muddy men in their work rain gear seem dazed. They talked to
clumps of people about a mudslide that may have taken out houses.
They had been told to leave the work sites. They left quickly.
People were dead. They didn’t know how many. Some City Officials
were dead. Some kids inside a house. The police wouldn’t let
anybody back up there. Too dangerous now. It was early. Stunned.
Worried. Unbelieving. The mountain we live under had liquified
then swallowed some houses, some people up. Really? Really? No
one could be sure, but this seemed to be happening.
Rumors. Phone calls. Speculations. Then official news reports on
the radio. Now two days later and they have found two bodies.
Only one house had been overwhelmed then crushed by a snapping
river of mud and trees. Two young men who had been dry walling
inside the house, were killed. Apparently it was their bodies that
have been found, but their names have not been made official, yet
we know it was them. Our son played football with the eldest and
knew his brother who was a year younger. The Diaz brothers. The
family lost two sons the same day.
The building inspector, was a friend of ours and a friend to many in
the community; a proud father of an accomplished daughter who is
to be married next month. The husband of a well known counselor
in our town. His death hits particularly hard in our circle. A good
guy, a helpful man, a sportsman and a man who liked to laugh.
I saw him ten days ago, (or was it two weeks? I can’t remember
and now and there is no one to ask) I was driving by the cafe on a
sunny day and he turned and smiled and as William Stortz stood
upright he waved at me high over his head, as if to say that it had
been too long since we had talked, and we needed to change that.
Tragedy wants to make philosophers out of most of us, but I will
resist that. Today I wrote notes to my friends who were working at
the site: friends of William’s and the Diaz brothers. They are tired
and sad. I wanted to tell them how much I appreciated how hard
they were working and how much I loved them .
And too, I told them when things settled down we should, without
fail, meet at the cafe for a cup of tea and spend some time together.
The rain stops.
Policemen do their hard jobs,
and tired workers dig.
August 21 at 3:22pm
Sitka ANB/ANS hall is open an welcome to all! Jeanette is welcoming
everyone with a hug and a smile. It’s so comforting to have
a beacon like her smile emoticon the Red Cross is also located at
ANB hall today. Coffee, tea, food and company. Please stop by, ask
questions, eat, drink and be thankful for our amazing town. We’re
all so lucky to call Sitka home. The Red Cross is accepting donations
and if you call the ANC chapter and/or send a check you can
specify that your money go directly to Sitka.
New Rain Threatens Slide Recovery Effort
Published by the Sitka Sentinel on Saturday, 22 August 2015
By Shannon Haugland and Tom Hesse
Sentinel Staff Writers
Efforts to locate and recover the body of the third man missing in
Tuesday’s Kramer Avenue landslide continued today but was halted
late this afternoon as an approaching weather front threatened to
stop operations through the weekend.
Speaking from the scene, City Administrator Mark Gorman said
crews had stopped searching for William Stortz, 62, amid concerns
about conditions near the search area.
“As of now we’ve moved on from recovery. The search and rescue
dogs are returning to Juneau. We’ve exhausted looking on the site
we thought William would be found, and he was not found there,”
Gorman said. He added that crews had started searching another
area, before being forced to stop.
“There was another hopeful site down slope – the excavators
started excavating but it was just too soupy,” he said. “So the priority
now has moved into trying to create a drainage route to reduce
the possibility of a further slide.”
At a press conference this afternoon at the Fire Hall, Assistant
Fire Chief and Incident Commander Al Stevens said crews were
doing everything they could to locate Stortz while also bracing for
the heavy rain forecast for the weekend.
It was a downpour of 2.59 inches Tuesday morning that caused
a mountainside above a new subdivision to break away, destroying
a house where two men were working, and burying Stortz, a city
worker who was inspecting the storm water drainage system.
The bodies of Elmer Diaz, 26, and Ulises Diaz, 25, were recovered
over the past two days and their names were officially released by
the Sitka Police Department this morning.
Conditions at the foot of the slide were so dangerous that attempts
to recover the victims did not start until more than 24 hours
after the slide, which struck at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Stevens said recovery operations for Stortz, along with the efforts
of work crews to prevent the tons of logs, mud and debris from
causing further damage, will probably be halted at 8 p.m., when the
rain is predicted.
“We’ve got a very small window and it’s closing rapidly on us
’cause you’ve heard what the weather report is,” Stevens said.
That report, given by incident meteorologist Joel Curtis of the
National Weather Service, calls for up to three inches of rain over
the weekend, beginning with light rain tonight.
“By Saturday evening it’s going to be pretty heavy ... I’m thinking
like another 1.3 inches – something like that,” Curtis said at the fire
hall news conference.
The added moisture will shut down recovery and debris removal
efforts for the weekend, but Curtis said the oncoming weather is expected
to be less damaging than Tuesday’s downpour of more than
2.5 inches of rain in six hours.
“The main difference, here, than the event that we had Tuesday
morning, is the fact that this rainfall will be spread out over time.
So we’re looking at 36-48 hours of amounts, say 2-3 inches or so,”
Curtis said. “The main thing to think about is this is spread out
over much longer time than our slide event.”
That extra time should allow hillsides in Sitka, particularly
the debris field on Kramer Avenue, to shed water more effectively
so that drainage infrastructure won’t be overwhelmed,
said Department of Transportation Geologist Mitch McDonald.
“The hazard for landslides does exist, certainly,” he said.
“We’ve got new slides with open ground and we’ve got some
rainfall coming. I think the forecast that Joel gave us is good:
that that rain is not going to hit as intensely.”
Public works and contractors working under their supervision
have been working steadily to release the water trapped in
the Kramer Avenue debris field and drain it away safely, while
preparing for the runoff that will come with the next storm.
Curtis said this one could be accompanied by 40 mph winds.
While the evacuation orders for residents below the slide area
on Kramer Avenue, Sand Dollar Drive and Whale Watch Drive
have been lifted, McDonald said that he personally would have
concerns about staying in the area if the rains come as forecast
“I would stay away from the area if the rain intensity occurs
as it’s predicted – that’s what I personally would do,” McDonald
Stevens said he will consider putting the evacuation order
back in place if sufficient work to prepare the area is not completed
by this evening.
“I’m going to re-evaluate that. That’s a very hard decision to
make,” Stevens said.
Shortly before press time it was announced that a voluntary
evacuation had been issued for Kramer Avenue, Sand Dollar
Drive, and Whale Watch Drive. The evacuation order remains
in effect for Jacobs Circle. In the release, Stevens said the up-
coming weather was cause for concern.
“We cannot say what effect the rain will have on the already
weakened slide area. There is material remaining in the landslide
chute and in the slide on Kramer Avenue that could move
again,” Stevens said in the news release at 3:30 p.m. today. “Our
top priority is the safety of our residents and our responders.
The most prudent thing we can do is back off and see how the
slide area handles the incoming rains.”
The work on the slide area is primarily related to making
sure that water flowing through the debris field is entering the
city storm drain system, and is not being dammed by trees and
Referring to McDonald’s report, Stevens said: “We are working
at doing some sort of drainage to prevent any further slides.
We are going to get more slough-off off the mountain, we know
that. We are trying to protect what we have in place at that time.
We’re going to work on drainage. We still have a recovery effort
in place, but we have a very short window of opportunity to
complete these assignments.”
McDonald was among geologists who earlier this week
climbed to the top of the slide, which started at 1,400 feet up the
side of Harbor Mountain. Much of the focus of the inspection
dealt with the potential of future slides, with a detailed analysis
of the findings to come later. He did say, however, that it wasn’t
the first time this part of the mountainside has broken loose.
“The Kramer slide was in an existing slide path. The cause
of it hasn’t been the focus as much as what’s the likelihood of
another event coming down or what that might look like. As
we’ve monitored the scene over the past few days we’ve seen the
soil set up a little bit – which is good news. We’ve seen the water
drain out – which is good news. To that end it seems as though it’s
re-establishing itself, somewhat.”
Stevens said all personnel and equipment, including the four
tracked excavators, will be pulled out by 8 p.m. or when the rain
“If the rains come sooner, I’m going to pull them out sooner.
We’re going to pull all equipment, all crews out. Obviously for safety
reasons,” he said.
Operations will resume when the weather allows, Stevens added.
Curtis said the next “drying out” is expected Monday or Tuesday.
As for the search for Stortz, four specially trained search dogs
were working in the area along with recovery teams.
Stevens said the dog teams have alerted in several different areas,
and the dig effort is not directed to a single location.
“We’re not just concentrated in one area, no. We’re working in
several different areas,” Stevens said.
He also gave an idea of why the search for the final victim must
move at a slow pace.
“As you can imagine, this is rather deep with mud, water, logs.
You don’t just come in, scoop a big chunk out and call it good. You
have to methodically and meticulously pull one piece out at a time.
We have spotters in there that have to look at what’s happening and
this is why it’s taken so long,” Stevens said.
Addressing other aspects of the storm damage recovery Stevens
said access to Blue Lake dam has been restored. Officials had been
unable to reach the dam in person because of landslides from the
Tuesday morning storm.
“The Blue Lake Road has also been looked at. As of 24 hours ago
that was an impassable road,” Stevens said. “It currently is a passable
road. However, we’re going to keep it closed to anyone else. Our
primary goal was to open it up so we could get access to the
dam and the power house that was up there.”
A special meeting of the Assembly has been scheduled 8 p.m.
tonight at City Hall to vote on a request for disaster relief from
the Governor’s office. City officials are still working to have a
state of emergency declared that would allow for additional
Robert S. Baines
August 22 at 11:49am
In these tragic times, we need to take good care of ourselves in
order to take good care of others. Do what it takes to reduce the
amount of stress. Please take in healthy fluids and nutrition, exercise,
get a good night’s sleep, show gratitude about life and know we
live in one of the best towns in the world.
When my Mom passed away, I felt much better by thanking everyone
who was nice to Mom throughout the years and so nice to our
family after her passing.
August 22 at 9:25am
I was at the Landslide sight for several hours Thursday and was
witness to extreme professionalism and respect by all out there.
The men running the CATS took little if any breaks. They gently
removed mud and parts of trees in hopes of finding a man that was
a friend to many of them. Dogs and dog handlers climbed through
deep mud and over logs to tirelessly help in the search. EMS, SPD,
Fire fighters , Coasties, diligently observing and awaiting a chance
to help. I was offered rain pants to sit on, water, food, a rain coat
a phone charger , assistance walking in the mud and regular kind
glances. The rescue effort is being run in an amazingly efficient and
cooperative way. There is an unspoken awareness that this sight is
hallowed ground. These women and men are all examples of Sikans
doing much more than just their jobs.
August 22 at 6:24am
I stopped at Evergreen Natural Foods to leave a donation and sign
the cards for the Families. Thank you Samantha Cox and all the
other Angels of Sitka that have shown the World why there is “No
Place like Our Home,Sitka.” The cards are almost full with small
prayers and best wishes. In this life of electronic communication,
where everyone (including me) can type a message that is received
and shared in the moment, it warms my heart to see pen on paper,
that can be held and kept close to a beating heart for years to come.
August 22 at 9:08am
I have not posted anything during this difficult time, although I
have received many posts. As one of the Officers in charge of The
Salvation Army along with my husband Turnie Wright, I have once
again seen the most loving and supportive community iI have ever
worked in (and there has been many) get together and support each
other. i would like to thank everyone for their support and donations
We could not have done what we have done and will continue
to do without the support of such and amazing cummunity family.
My love and prayers continue for this above and beyond community.
Neighbor To Neighbor: Sitkans Rally In Emergency
Published by the Sitka Sentinel on Saturday, 22 August 2015
By Shannon Haugland and Tom Hesse
Sentinel Staff Writers
Immediately after Tuesday’s landslides, more than 100 Sitkans
signed up at the fire hall to volunteer. But not everyone reached for
chainsaws and work boots.
Many Sitkans reached instead for cooking spatulas or – in the
case of Joey Stamps – for a drum set and a cell phone.
“We were sitting in our living room after everything had went
down and we were just kind of talking about how we couldn’t really
help,” Stamps said. “We didn’t know how we could help. My roommate
Apollo Stone said we could put together a benefit concert and
so I immediately started talking to other musicians in town and got
a hold of The Pub to see if they would host it, and everybody was
on board right away.”
Hours after news Tuesday three people were missing in the slide
was announced, seven local bands and musicians were on board for
a benefit concert to be held at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Pub. It’s one of
a number of fundraisers taking place this weekend to support the
families affected by the landslide disaster and the search and recovery
efforts that followed.
Accounts have been set up at local banks to accept contributions
to aid the families of the three men who died, and residents who
have had to leave their homes during the emergency. Food and cash
donations are being accepted by the Salvation Army, and online
auctions and fundraisers have also been started.
These efforts are on top of the informal ways that Sitkans are
pitching in by opening their homes to displaced families, and taking
food to the workers in the field.
Mayor Mim McConnell said she’s not surprised by the multitude
of events and efforts.
“Sitkans once again are rising to the occasion of meeting the
needs of their neighbors and families and friends, and it’s been
shown by all the events being scheduled to raise money and provide
support for people,” she said. “It’s a humbling thing to see and to
experience. It’s pretty awesome. It makes me proud of my community.”
“It’s further indication in how remarkable this community is,”
City Administrator Mark Gorman said. “It won’t stop giving until
the need is met.”
Nonprofits are putting on dinners, and volunteers not associated
with any organization are finding their own ways to contribute.
Joey Stamps plays drums in The Apollo Stone Band, but he’ll also
be helping out Los Shotgun Locos, which also signed up to play
Saturday night. They will be joined by Luke Abbott, Meathead MC,
Dirty Skeeze, SlackTide and The Lost Boys of Sitka.
Dave Jenks and his brothers, who own The Pub, were out of town
when Stamps approached them with the idea for the concert, but
that didn’t stop the plan from unfolding.
“(Event Coordinator) Shannon (Smallwood), Joey and I were
sending emails and texts and got the whole thing put together and
on Facebook in a matter of minutes,” Jenks said. “All the music is
going to be up to Joey and his coordination with everyone. We’re
just extremely happy that we have an asset at The Pub that can help
Donations will be taken at the door – The Pub is suggesting
$20 – with the proceeds going to support the families of those
who died in the landslide.
Stamps said he’s impressed by the way Sitka has responded to
the crisis, and he’s happy to be a part of the local support effort.
“Honestly, I feel that this is the only way I can help. I’m not a
rich man, by any means, but I’m pretty good at raising money
through concerts,” Stamps said.
The Salvation Army has been a point organization since the
crisis began on Tuesday, providing meals for the workers, including
police officers, search team members and other volunteers
at the Kramer Avenue slide area and at the fire hall.
Salvation Army Major Turnie Wright said the organization is
continuing to collect cash and food donations, including 10,000
pounds of frozen food donated by Lyle’s and Jensen’s Furniture.
“This has been constant,” Wright said. “Chips, granola bars,
soda – which is welcome because we’re running on fumes.”
The Salvation Army is still open to donations of items most
useful at the site, such as fresh fruit, protein and granola bars,
single serving pull-top canned items that can be eaten cold or
hot, and canned foods that can also replenish the Salvation
Army’s food bank.
Wright said canned good are preferable to baked goods, but
all donated items are accepted. He also made a pitch for knives,
forks and spoons for use at the soup kitchen.
Wright said his organization is happy to take care of the volunteers
because “half of the time they get forgotten about.” He
said the Salvation Army appreciates all the donations that have
“The outpouring has been incredible,” Wright said. “We are
Sitka and we’re strong. We’re going to pull through.”
Bank accounts have been set up for various purposes including
ones at ALPS Federal Credit Union and Wells Fargo Bank
Samantha Cox, an administrator of Sitka Chatters on facebook,
used her website to set up an online auction, and established
a GoFundMe fundraiser, “Sitka Chatters Emergency
Fund,” that will also receive the proceeds from the auction.
“It’s set up to help pay hotel bills, damage to homes, receipts
for food,” she said.
Money raised will be transferred to the Salvation Army in an
account set up for disaster relief. Any funds left over will be given
to the families of William Stortz and the Diaz brothers, Cox
said. As of 2 p.m. today, about $9,000 had been raised.
Cox also has seen an increase in the number of group members
in Sitka Chatters, from 3,400 to 4,000 since Tuesday.
Another internet fundraiser has been established for the Diaz
family through GoFundMe.com. More than $12,000 has been
raised in that account “to help the Diaz family with their expenses
in the upcoming weeks & months,” the site says.
A former fire hall volunteer currently living in Bellingham,
Wash., set up a CrowdRise.com fundraiser on the internet for
the Sitka Fire Department. Type in “Sitka -The Little City by the
Sea” to get there from the main CrowdRise web site.
Lisa Fisher-Roy trained as an EMT in Sitka in 2009 or 2010,
but is currently at Western Washington University. She said she
heard about the disaster in Sitka, was classmates with one of the
Diaz boys, and wanted to help.
“I know people in the fire department put their lives on the
line every day,” she said. “It’s really important they get taken care of
as well. ... I really wanted the funds to go to the Sitka Fire Department
and Sitka Mountain Rescue and disaster relief. I want to make
sure the fire department gets noticed and gets the funding they
need as well.”
The money will go directly into the fire department’s business
account, she said.
She said she got the idea for a crowd-source fundraiser from the
Red Cross, which has a few volunteers and workers helping out in
Sitka right now.
The American Red Cross has sent a staff member, who is working
with three volunteers from Sitka and one from Haines. They are set
up at Grace Harbor Church, where they are working with the Salvation
Army to provide meals to the emergency workers. So far most
resources have come from the community, not from outside, said
Andrew Bogar, a Red Cross disaster specialist from Juneau.
The Sitka Moose Lodge is hosting a dinner tonight and next
Friday with half the proceeds going to mudslide disaster relief.
The ribeye steak and baked potato meal will be held 6 to 9 p.m. on
both Fridays, open to members and invited guests. The cost is $20
per person, or $18 for 65 and up. The Moose will also have a 50-50
drawing both nights as a fundraiser for the same purpose.
“It’s just to help out anyone who needs help from the mudslide,”
said Suzette Burkhart, social quarters manager. “We know this is
hard for anyone who’s lost people in the landslide. We’re trying to
help out anyone who needs help.”
August 22 at 10:58am
A break from pain
Baby yoga at Kettleson Memorial Library right now.
Bayview Restaurant and Pub
August 22 at 9:15am
Tentative schedule for tonight.
Bayview Restaurant and Pub
Tentative schedule for tomorrow night.
7:00 Luke Abbott
7:45 Meathead Mc
9:30 Los Shotgun Locos
10:30 Dirty Skeeze
11:30 Apollo Stone Band
12:30 Lost Boys
All donations will be given to the Stortz and Diaz families. Robert
Truman is going to start the night at the door at 6pm taking donations.
We’ll be going all night, local musicians putting on music,
putting back some pints, remembering, celebrating, consoling, and
Come for all of it, come for some it, or just swing by to drop off
cash. But swing by.
August 23 at 12:49am
Alright folks, a HUGE thank you to those who came out to the
Benefit Concert tonight! I don’t have an exact number, but I hear
it was just under $9,000. You folks are inspiring and awesome, and
congratulations everyone. So proud to be a part of this community!
Kettleson Memorial Library
August 23 at 11:16am ·
Kettleson Memorial Library and SAFV will run an art event for
children on Tuesday (Aug. 25) starting at 2:00 pm at the library.
The event will focus on using art as a healing tool, and it will follow
A Windows Between Worlds activities that help to heal communities
impacted by trauma. Adults are welcome to join for company,
conversation, light refreshments and a time of Mandala coloring.
Everybody is welcome. For more information, call the library at 747
Carla Whiteside at Sugar Chic
August 24 at 12:00am
Thank you so much Sitka! We raised over $1,000 this weekend for
the families effected by the landslides. I love our little town, we always
comes together in the time of need without question. It’s truly
a gift to witness such caring, selfless people all in one place. Also
seeing the tons of love and support outside of Sitka. Even my older
sister in San Diego who hasn’t lived here for years, Jessica McDevitt
was kind enough to donate supplies to Grace Harbor, that’s just one
example. It fills my heart to see people give back...it’s a glimmer of
light peering though such a devastatingly tragic event. Love you
little town with a big heart #sitkagivnglove#giveback
August 24 at 7:41pm
4 short months ago I moved to a beautiful city I now call home, I’ve
seen the good the bad and the ugly of this gorgeous little piece of
heaven we all share and in just a matter of 7 days I’ve seen this town
torn to pieces over the tragedy of 3 horrible landslides which took 3
beautiful souls I’m told, and you all have still managed to come out
on top, this community is so amazing and so blessed to have one
another, no place quite like Sitka.
August 24 at 9:25pm
My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to those families that lost a
loved one and my thanks to all the many many Sitkans
who have given food, clothes, a place to stay, money to go to those
who need it. To all the volunteers who have day after day been at
the church and fire hall to support any one needing comfort Also
those volunteers working at the site.
Those volunteers will have very sad and troubling issues to get
through as time goes on. They are going to need help from friends
Those of us that have not been right there at the site or hugging
those that needed it, feel the pain of those gone or lost property, but
not what the volunteers or city employees
will feel as they remember the tough days they lived through.
As others have said, Sitka is special and I would never live any
Thank you every each and every one of you
August 24 at 3:01pm · Edited
HUGE shout out to Pet’s Choice Veterinary Hospital!
I called this morning to see if any money was needed to help pay
for the surgeries and care for the two dogs that were hurt in the
landslide, and was told that the bills were already covered between
random donations and the rest by the clinic themselves! Due to
confidentiality between the dogs families and the animal hospital,
I was understandably not given details of their condition, but I was
assured that the pups are doing good
August 24 at 10:26pm
I love living here in sitka... I was born and raised here. In the late
1970 I lived on the island and the house me and my family lived
in. It caught on fire and we lost everything. And I can remember
the whole town came together and donated tons of clothes for my
whole family. Even though it was over 35 years ago... I would just
like to say thank you to everyone that helped us out. And I thank
god we have such a good community. When something terrible
happens...we all become one big family. And that’s why I never want
to move...you can never find another town like ours.
August 24 at 11:37pm
We had a house fire several years ago as well, and it blew my mind
how quickly word spread, not in a gossipy way but in passing along
that there was a family in need and networking to meet those
needs.. there was so much generosity, from friends and strangers
alike, that i think my son and i ended up with even “more” clothes
and household goods than the amount of stuff we lost! we were
homeless for less than ten minutes before having several offers to
choose from.. and nobody would let me pay them back.. they just
shrugged it off and said “we’re sitka, it’s what we do!” it’s no wonder
so many of us are compelled to “pay it forward” when we get a
chance! that concept has been alive and well here long before the
book and movie.. it’s one of the reasons i too feel very blessed to
live here in spite of the risks mother nature may pose.. no place is
perfect, but it doesn’t get any better than sitka!
Tamie Parker Song
August 24 at 6:56pm
I wish we could harness the incredible love and energy and kindness
and immense generosity in this community, and take this
show on the road. Imagine what world problems we could solve,
if the way people are acting in Sitka right now was happening on a
Search Resumes for Man Missing In Slide
Published by the Sitka Sentinel on Monday, 24 August 2015
By Shannon Haugland and Tom Hesse
Sentinel Staff Writers
After a weekend delay because of rain, the search for the body of
William Stortz resumed this morning in the debris left by last Tuesday’s
Kramer Avenue landslide.
Stortz was one of three men killed when a mountainside slope gave
way above a new subdivision above Halibut Point Road.
The bodies of Elmer Diaz, 26, and his brother Ulises Diaz, 25,
were recovered in the days after the slide, but continued recovery
efforts failed to locate Stortz by the time digging was halted Friday
Incident Commander Al Stevens put the search and recovery
efforts on hold at that time because of the forecast for heavy rains
starting that night and continuing over the weekend. Emergency
response officials had expected that it would be Tuesday before
work could be resumed, but today’s break in the weather allowed
an earlier start, said city clerk Sara Peterson, who is the designated
spokesperson for the recovery work.
Peterson said a search team, a search dog and at least three tracked
excavators started work early this morning, and were expected to
work continuously at least through Thursday evening, when a new
storm front is expected.
“We got a break in the weather, so we got an extra day,” Peterson
said. “They’re going to hit it hard the next few days because rains
from the typhoon in the Gulf of Alaska are supposed to hit here
Besides the three fatalities, a house that was in the final stages of
construction was destroyed, along with other property including a
trailer of construction tools owned by contractor Pete Weiland.
Officials said the landslide started at 1,400 feet above sea level and
ran 1,000 feet down the mountainside above Kramer Avenue. After
burying the house at 410 Kramer Avenue, it deposited a 25-foot
high pile of denuded trees, rocks and mud in the street. The slide
was one of seven in Sitka caused by the Tuesday morning rainstorm
in which nearly 2.6 inches of rain fell in under six hours.
Over this past weekend Sitka received another two and a half inches
of rain, but no significant damage was reported as a result.
The difference in the effect of the two periods of nearly equal
amounts of rain was caused by the difference in length of time during
which the rain fell on the two occasions.
A NOAA chart on today’s front page shows the difference in the
outflow of Indian River after the Aug. 18 rain compared to this
About 50 searchers were at the debris field on Kramer Avenue
early this afternoon. Peterson said workers had cleared out
paths along both sides of the slide area to improve access and
safety in the search areas. A drainage ditch was dug on Friday
and Sunday to channel water to the right side of Kramer Avenue,
and relieve pressure on the debris field.
The voluntary evacuation notice that went into effect late last
week for Sand Dollar Drive, Whale Watch and south Kramer
Avenue was lifted this morning, Peterson said. A mandatory
evacuation notice for Jacobs Circle and the slide area on the
upper end of Kramer has remained in effect since last Tuesday.
The City and Borough Assembly met Friday evening to approve
an emergency ordinance declaring the mud slide as a “disaster
The ordinance will allow Sitka to seek emergency state assistance
through a number of departments. Gov. Walker also has
access to other emergency funding, city officials said.
Walker came to Sitka Wednesday to inspect the disaster site,
and gave the city administrator a commitment for state funding
to help the recovery effort.
City officials said today hundreds of thousands of dollars has
been spent so far on the emergency response, but no estimates
were out today on the cost of the damage.
“It’s too early to tell,” City Finance Director Jay Sweeney said.
“Every day that you’ve got operations going on out there,
contractors deployed, then those costs continue to increase. It’s
impossible to say, it depends on how long it goes.”
The six members of the Assembly who attended Friday night’s
emergency meeting voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance.
It asks the governor to declare a disaster emergency, and
“provide state assistance to the City and Borough of Sitka in
its response and recovery from this event to include the state’s
public assistance, individual assistance, Small Business Administration
and temporary housing as appropriate.”
The declaration of disaster is also needed to be eligible for
federal help, city officials said Friday. City staff has been working
since Tuesday on the ordinance, with guidance on specific
language from the governor’s office.
The ordinance calls attention to the damage in the “whereas”
sections of the ordinance.
“Whereas, the following conditions exist as a result of the disaster
emergency: significant damage to borough and state roads,
power, buildings and other infrastructure to be discovered;
actual damage or threats to several homes requiring evacuation,
alternative housing and sheltering of affected residences.
“Whereas, the unstable ground conditions coupled with the
unavailability of geology expertise to assess affected areas is
hampering body recovery and damage assessment processes; ...”
City Administrator Mark Gorman said the areas of the debris field
where teams were concentrating their efforts on Friday had failed
to turn up any sign of the missing man.
Stortz was the city building official, and had gone to Kramer Avenue
Tuesday to inspect drainage in the wake of the rain deluge that
had occurred earlier in the morning.
Other areas of town affected by the storm may soon have access restored.
The Blue Lake hydro dam is accessible to city staff however
Blue Lake Road remains closed to the public, including pedestrians.
Green Lake Road washed out at multiple points during the storm
but Peterson said city officials expect it to be open for travel today.
Sarah Pies Mahoskey
August 24 at 8:10pm
It’s impossible to express in words how grateful my husband and
I are for this extreme act of kindness and generosity. Cooper and
Stella are home with us and healing really well. They are surrounded
with love, getting non-stop attention and snuggles, and a plentiful
amount of doggie treats. Thank you to everyone in this beautiful
community for your support. Vicki, Marcus and all of the staff at
Pet’s Choice have given our dogs the best care we could ask for
and we will be forever grateful. An enormous amount of love and
thanks to Lance Jamison-Ewers, Kim Nekeferoff and the entire crew
that gave our dogs another chance, and enabled them to even make
it to Pet’s Choice in the first place. Thank you to each and every one
of you for your care and concern. Our hearts are with those families
who are grieving the loss of loved ones
Jennifer A’Lyne Douglas
August 25 at 5:36am
As I lay here getting ready for bed I think of all the grief and heartache
the people from my hometown of Sitka are feeling. I did not
know the people who’s lives were sadly cut short, I dont know the
people who’s homes were destroyed, or those who have been displaced
from there homes. However I do know the Generosity, love,
compassion, dedication and devotion that is being freely given and
shared in the Community is what makes Sitka the beautiful place it
is. Thru this tragic event the outpouring of help, love and compassion
has fueled a fire that I hope will continue to spread thru out
Sitka and onto other communities, cities, states and continents! I
cannot express it with words how very proud I am to say that I am
from Sitka Alaska, and that my further actions in my life can only
reflect positively upon the beloved town I grew up in! God bless Sitka
Alaska! SITKA STRONG
Christine Golliver Silvanio
August 24 at 4:15pm · Edited
I would just like to say something.....I have been following this page
and I am thankful that the admin allows me to. I have read so much
courage and support from all of Sitka and want to say Thank you
for everyone and the support from this community. I visited just 2
weeks prior to this event happening while visiting family and when
I heard I was devastated. we had rented a home right off of HPR.
We enjoyed the beauty of of Sitka from the people that lives there
and of course the scenery. My mom (Tlingit) is from Sitka and To
be “home” is incredible to say the least. I wish all Sitkans well during
this time and moving forward. I hope they find Mr. Stortz and
give his family closure. I have a son who is the same age at the Diaz
brothers and relate to their loss as if it was my son. I just want to
tell you from an outsider from New Jersey that I am really proud of
you all and what you do for your community and life itself. Thanks
for reading. Sincerely, The Silvanio (Didrickson/Williams) family. I
wish I could do more.
August 24 at 10:17pm
“Love is not written on paper for paper can be erased. Nor can it
be etched on stone, for stone can be broken. But it is inscribed on a
heart and there it shall remain forever.” ~~ Anonymous
I had the humble fortune to spend the evening with Mr. and Mrs.
Diaz at their home, with my sons, Kori, Danielle, KariMae, and
Kori’s bud Kelly from college. It was a quiet gathering of the Diaz
family, relatives, and their friends. I appreciated the opportunity to
spend some quality time with Mr. Diaz outside, in the sun, talking
as Dads. Mostly me listening to his reflections of fatherhood for
It struck me time and time again, as I listened to Mr. Diaz, at how
heavy the heart is, and will be for a while.....as we talked about his
two sons, my two sons, and fatherhood.......the things we do as
parents, as dads, to help them prepare for life.....and then, when
it is time, to let them go be their “selves” in growing up in life. I
appreciated listening to a similar perspective of being a dad to these
sets of brothers, his and mine. He talked about how he raised them
to have respect, to listen and learn, to get ready for life. And at the
same time, enjoy living life to its fullest with no regrets. To live it
such that there would be no looking back, no second guessing, just
appreciating how they lived life fully.
He looked down below us at my two sons and talked about the
friendship they had with his sons, about allllll those guys who his
sons hung out with. He quietly smiled at who Elmer and Uli were
and are - the 10 decibal video games, the laughing, arguing and
making up as brothers, the inseperable bond they had for each
other. He was overwhelmed with the community turning to help
him, his wife, and his family in this moment. I gently suggested to
him that it was a reflection of who his sons were and are....and a reflection
of how he and his wife, their mom - raised these two, such
that they touched so many corners of Sitka, with their electric, fun,
It was a thoughtful, reflective, quiet conversation he and I had.
Fatherhood. The thought I quoted fit this moment. Love cannot go
away from a parent’s, a dad’s view of his sons. In this moment of
loss, we both had the same sense - that love is truly in the heart and
mind and will never go away. Interestingly, we kept pointing to our
hearts during our reflective conversation. It truly is inscribed on
the heart and it truly will remain there forever. I enjoyed immensly
listening and talking with Mr. Diaz.......realizing and agreeing that
they will never be gone from him, nor my sons from me, as that
Love - who they are - is inscribed on the hearts forever.........as the
family, relatives, and friends showed up.......and we enjoyed the rest
of the evening with all......
Laughter, conversation, a few tears, lots of hugs, fun with little ones,
carried the evening.......and when it was time to go.....I enjoyed
that there were many handshakes, hugs, and it ended with a warm
embrace with Mom, Mrs. Diaz as she smiled and shared hugs with
Nicholaas and Anthony....and then as she hugged me and we looked
at these two sons of mine.....she said that they were her two sons
now.....and that we would share them, together......parents, always.
*warm sigh*..........it was a good evening at the Diaz home and I
suspect, as I have come to know them over time....I clearly see why
Elmer and Uli are Elmer and Uli.......they have a wonderful Mom
and Dad......Love inside the home.....something that lasts forever......
Jenny St John
August 24 at 12:57pm
UPDATE: We are all set on volunteers. Thank you all so much for
your support. I’m amazed how quickly this town came together to
help the Stortz family. If for some reason we need more volunteers I
will let Sitka Chatters know.
If anyone is willing and able to help the search efforts for William
Stortz, we are in desperate need for road block volunteers. We need
volunteers from 8am until 8pm all week. We’d like people to take
4 hour shifts but we’re obviously flexible. We’d prefer 1 person to
write down names and times of anyone coming and going from the
road entrance as well as someone to radio that information to the
fire hall. No experience necessary. Please call me at 425-757-3152,
the fire hall at 966-5770 or stop by the fire hall and ask for Jenny St
Jenny St John
August 24 at 3:42pm
I’d like to thank Kenny’s Wok for donating lunch to the search
and rescue volunteers today. I know everyone appreciates it when
they’re working such long hours and don’t have time to get away
from the site. If there are any other businesses or residents that
would like to donate food, drinks or even bug spray for our hardworking
volunteers please call me at 425-757-3152 or 966-5770
(fire hall). Thank you all so much!
Jenny St John
August 25 at 2:16pm
UPDATE: As most of you have already heard we were thankfully
able to recover William today. For that reason, the fire department
and Salvation Army are no longer taking food donations at this
time. I would like to thank all of the hardworking volunteers, workers
and donations we received over the past week. Your generosity
has been overwhelming and has not gone unnoticed. Should the
need for donations arise again, we’ll make sure to let the amazing
town of Sitka know. Thank you.
I’d like to thank Pizza Express for donating food for our workers/
volunteers today. We really appreciate their willingness to contribute
and do whatever they can to help make our day a little easier.
If you’d like to bring snack like items you’re welcome to drop them
by the fire hall. However, if you’d like to bring a meal of some kind
please call me so I can plan accordingly. We’d hate to have too much
food and have it go to waste. My direct line at the fire hall is 966-
5770 (if I don’t answer, call the main line at 747-3233 and ask for
me) and my cell # is 425-757-3152. Thank you all again for your
eagerness to help us in this time of need.
August 25 at 7:03am
Good morning Chatters,
As of today the Sitka Chatters Emergency Fund (between the Go
Fund Me and the First Bank account) is at $14,000.00!
I have had the honor of relinquishing some of your generously donated
funds to a few families who were evacuated.
If there are any other folks who would like to be reimbursed for
hotels or food, or who have other needs, please feel free to meet me
at Evergreen Natural Foods at any time between 10am and 6pm, or
private message me with any questions.
All who have requested funds have said the same, they are humbled
by the outpouring of love and feel unworthy to accept the funds.
To you who feel that way I want to say this. A portion of this money
was donated with folks just like you in mind. Giving is often easier
than receiving, but being able to receive is a HUGE gift to the giver.
The best way to say thank you is to accept what others have given.
Blessings to you all. Enjoy the sunshine today.
August 25 at 3:02pm
Thank you for bringing up an important point! samantha is really
covering all the bases! having needed to be on the receiving end
of charity (when i was a young single mother in the aftermath of
a housefire), i can very much relate to feeling awkward or even
guilty/ashamed of receiving donations.. but the overwhelming
response was that to refuse would be to rob others of the blessing
of being able to be on the giving end! it truly has its own rewards!
when i dismayed that i did not know how i could ever repay anyone
but was determined to try, every single person told me they did not
wish to be paid back, that someday another sitka family would be
in need of help and i might be in a position to offer it, and the gift
of love is the gift that keeps on giving! PAY IT FORWARD has been
in action in sitka since as long as i can remember! please do accept
our love with no shame or embarrassment, and in time you too can
pay it forward smile emoticon
This is what I believe--we are all inherently connected. Imagine a
field of stars, connected by strings of light. Some points and connections
burn brighter than others depending on how people reach
out and support those around them. Sitka is the brightest place I’ve
ever lived, despite the lack of sunshine. I felt connection before I
even moved there, when Sasha, a friend of a friend, reached out,
ecstatic I’d be moving to her hometown. Though school had taken
her from the island, she connected me with her friends and parents
and started my Sitka family early.
I met Libby and William shortly after arriving and of course they
were instantly welcoming. They are those people who ask how you
are in passing on the street and truly mean it, who smile and it
reaches all the way to their eyes. I remember fondly dinners at their
house, conversations about life paths, and making tamales as fellow
rain forest green chile connoisseurs. I remember their joy in sharing
berries from their garden and freshly-caught fish. I remember
their home being filled with easy laughter and smiles, so much light
pouring out from this beautiful family.
The last time I saw William was shortly before I moved, as our
paths crossed to/from the Backdoor. A short conversation, but I
remember William’s genuine congratulations and good luck for my
grad school path. A goodbye for now, a big smile, an encouragement
to make it back to Sitka after school.
Of all the small towns I’ve lived in, Sitka comes together in a unique
and powerful way. Over the past week since the landslides it’s been
beautiful to see this, though difficult to watch from afar because if
I was in Sitka I would be there, with the amazing responders and
engineers I’ve gotten to know as an EMT. I am not surprised that so
many Sitkans have been stepping up to volunteer with the recovery
crews who brought Elmer and Ulises home last week and continue
to search for William, or make food, or offer their homes to those
displaced, or provide other support. I am not surprised because I
received a small part of the light of this community as well after my
apartment fire. Not surprised, but deeply moved and honored that I
was able to call this community home.
I didn’t know the Diaz brothers, but William, and his family, were
constant points of light during my time in Sitka. Though it will in
no way lesson this tragedy for the Diaz family or for the Stortz’s, I
hope the light of this community helps to give them strength and
find moments of peace in the days and months to come. In the face
of such loss and darkness, know that there are so many of us thinking
of you, holding you in our hearts, and reaching out our light to
Rest in peace William. You will be missed by so many.
The sunset tonight in Sitka.......seven days from a horrific moment,
a day of warm sun, the day Sitkans help bring our third friend
home to his family, the day that marks closure, the day that begins
a healing process for the community, and a day that ends with a
I’ve not remembered such a seven day window in my life in this
community. Seven days ago, at this time, this community was devastated
in its heart. Shocked, stunned, and in tears......this community
was knocked backwards with the sudden and tragic efforts of
Mother Nature to display her awsome powers.......
I’ve not remembered such a loss that had the entirety of Sitka
hurting. The Stortz famliy, the Diaz family, the families that lost
everything, the families that became homeless......and all the extended
families and friends in this community whose hearts were
ripped.....and the rippling effect it had on everyone, was heartbreaking
to see. This one was close to home given the closeness of my
sons and the Diaz brothers. My own heart, like many, was wounded
with the loss of these two dynamic souls and even moreso to see
my own sons wounded in their very souls with this loss. To spend
time, an evening, and more, with Elmer and Uli’s parents.....and
have reflective conversations with them about their sons. To have
Mrs. Diaz hug both Nicholaas and Anthony, and then hug me only
to quietly smile and suggest that my two sons will be her two sons,
was a special way to end my yesterday.
With William home.......truly, every corner of Sitka can begin healing
together. I’ve had enough conversations around the community
to know that this loss has gone well beyond these hurting families.
Quiet reminders, as I drove out to capture this sunset tonight......
like seeing blankets piled high in the entryway of Grace Harbor
church, reminding me of the superhuman effort of that church
family to open up their doors to the families, the friends of the
missing, and this army of volunteers that helped bring Elmer, Uli,
and William home. Driving by the Firehall and remembering my
own drives late in the evening to “breathe”.....and seeing that firehall
parking lot packed everynight at 11pm.....knowing those dedicated
volunteers had been at it since the crack of dawn every day, yet they
were there heading toward midnight.......every day. Being given a
solemn opportunity to go to the site of this devastating slide, and
seeing the incredible destructive power of Mother Nature.....yet, to
see these dedicated professionals, volunteers, and those incredible
men on the steam shovels - compassionate, focused, driven workers,
many of whom had been up there every minute of every day -
driven to bring our three friends home. I called them all the “tip of
the sword” in this massive effort yet truly they were the “Compassionate
Hands,” searching for William, Elmer, and Uil......from the
digging by hand, to the incredible men in the steam shovels who
had such a gift with their compassionate feather touch and focus,
knowing they were searching for our friends.......
Under all that stress, out there, and at Grace Harbor, and at the
Incident Command Post......under all that focused stress.....it was
impressive to see this herculean effort, orchestrated by Chief Dave
Miller and Asst. Chief Al Stevens who had the challenging task of
keeping an eye on the big picture, with all these moving parts, to
make the best possible decisions for the good of the whole, while
staying focused on the mission to bring them home. Some decisions
were not popular yet they were good, calculated, correct
decisions every time......not an easy task to make when their hearts
wants to weigh in on these two - Dave Miller and Al Stevens. They
stayed the course.
The massive effort to help support it all.....the Sitkans walking in the
door at the firehall or at Grace Harbor or at the Salvation Army.....
Sitkans bringing in food.....commercial restaurants bringing in hot
meals, Sitkans walking in with anything asked for.........Was incredible.
Nothing short of incredible. And to see fundraising efforts kick
in with new ideas and social media paths. Was incredible.
As I sat with Mr. Diaz last night and listened....he was overwhelmed
by the community response, the response from around the state
for his sons and for William.......he said “he lives in a good town.” I
As I reflect on this horrific seven days of Sitka’s life.........I see the
good that has happened within this sad moment. I see Sitkans pulling
together to support Sitkans. I see two famililes overwhelmed by
the support on so many fronts to help bring their loved ones, our
There will be tears this weekend......as we have the memorials for
our three friends. Friday for Elmer and Uli. Saturday for William.
We will be sad in the moment......yet, we will all have closure on this
seven day moment in Sitka’s history. The healing will begin. We will
smile again, down the road, when we think of William, Elmer, and
Uli. We will laught again at Elmer and Uli and things like the dizzy
sports thing at Moller Park.......and being able to smile at these
three, with smiles instead of tears.....heck, I think Uli is already
arguing at the fact that I didn’t put his name first in any of these
thoughts of William, Elmer,and him........such is the fun these kids
have ALL THE TIME. smile emoticon
For now, as I stared at tonight’s Sitka sunset, and had that wistful
song playing in my mind, “Havana” by Kenny G......I could only
think of how Elmer and Uli would be organizing yet another game
on a warm, sandy beach, arguing how to play a game...laughing and
getting on with it......with all their friends, my sons included, all the
way to sunset......... I’ll smile at that reflective thought as I enjoy that
this community is resilient. In time, Mr and Mrs Diaz will smile
about their sons. Libby will smile about her husband. My sons and
their friends will smile and laugh about Elmer and Uli. Hearts will
be whole and continue to have sons and a husband inside them
- and the love for these three will always be around as they are
inscribed on the hearts of the familes and on your hearts - they will
never be far away from those who loved them and befriended them.
After all, yet again, with a beautiful sunset that has a bit more of a
special meaning tonight, a reflective sunset .........It’s just this resilient
community I love.....and maybe this sunset is William, Elmer,
and Uli’s way of smiling at us all.........
It truly is Sitka being Sitka........
Landslide First Item At Assembly Meeting
Published by the Sitka Sentinel on Wednesday, 26 August 2015
By Shannon Haugland
Sentinel Staff Writers
The first regular meeting of the City and Borough Assembly since
the Aug. 18 landslide disaster began Tuesday night with a remembrance
of the three men who died, and expressions of gratitude for
the work and sacrifice of the professional and volunteer responders.
The Assembly meeting took place only hours after the body of William
Stortz was recovered from the south side of the slide on Kramer
Avenue. The remains of the other two victims, brothers Elmer
Diaz, 26, and Ulises Diaz, 25, were found in the first days after the
slide, and the intensive search to locate Stortz’ body had continued
every day since then except for two days of delay caused by rain.
Stortz was the city building official, and died in the line of duty.
Work at the Kramer slide was focused not only on the search for
Stortz, but on preventing further damage from the thousands of
tons of unstable material left at the foot of the 1,000-foot slide.
“The people of Sitka have been flat amazing,” said Fire Chief Dave
Miller. “They have gone far and above what I ever thought would
have been done.”
He said the list of volunteers and workers – from those involved
in the search to those who provided food for them – would be too
long to mention.
“Just thanks,” the chief said. “The list would be too far, too long to
Miller said the last nine days had required an extra effort from his
crew of 10 employees and 100 volunteers.
Responding to the multiple rainstorm-related landslides was by far
the most serious of the emergency situations in the city since Aug.
14, when oil from the city diesel generation plant spilled into Sitka
Sound, and including the search this past weekend for a man, later
found dead, who jumped from the O’Connell Bridge.
Miller gave special recognition to Assistant Fire Chief Al Stevens,
the incident commander on the response to the Aug. 18 mudslides.
But, he added, that said it took the efforts of the whole community
to pull through the emergency.
“He’s just one of many,” the chief said of Stevens. “It wasn’t us that
did this – it was the whole community that did it. ... We may not
see eye to eye on everything, but when it comes down to it, this
City Administrator Mark Gorman stood up at the Assembly table,
remarking that this is the custom in the Tlingit culture when you
address people you hold in the highest respect. (Gorman, a former
SEARHC vice president, was adopted 10 years ago into the Eagle
Kaagwaantaan clan in Klukwan.)
“I hold this community in highest regard,” he said. He told
stories of people experiencing tragedy reaching out to each
other, and the community working together. “The strength, the
courage, the humility of this community has been remarkable.”
He closed his comments by saying, “I stand before you this
evening with humility, with honor. You as a community have
been strong ... I’m humbled and privileged to have been able to
serve the community.”
City Attorney Robin Koutchak concluded the staff comments
by acknowledging the rank and file city employees who stepped
up and took on extra duties at city hall and elsewhere during
this past week. At the same time, they were dealing with the loss
of their colleague on the city staff.
“They held up under a lot of pressure,” Koutchak said. She
encouraged the public to be patient since many were doing “two
jobs at once.”
The Assembly then got on with business, taking on a full agenda
for a three-hour meeting.
Final Victim Recovered at Site of Landslide
Published by the Sitka Sentinel on Wednesday, 26 August 2015
By Shannon Haugland and Tom Hesse
Sentinel Staff Writers
Searchers recovered the body of William Stortz Tuesday afternoon,
one week after he was last seen in the path of a massive landslide.
The remains of the other two men killed in the Kramer Avenue
landslide were recovered in the days immediately after the Aug. 18
Mayor Mim McConnell issued a statement Tuesday saying recovery
of the final victim will allow the families to move forward.
“I am very proud of the job the responders did, and the way the
entire community pulled together during this very sad time,” Mc-
Connell said. “We have found these men who were much loved and
brought some closure for their families.”
Stortz, 62, was the city building official, and was on Kramer Avenue
the morning of Aug. 18 to inspect the city drainage systems in the
wake of a torrential downpour earlier in the day.
Brothers Elmer Diaz, 26, and Ulises Diaz, 25, were working inside
a house under construction at 410 Kramer Ave. when the landslide
struck. The body of Elmer Diaz was recovered the day after the
slide, and Ulises’ on the next day.
City officials said Stortz was found on the southern end of the
landslide area, opposite the location of the Diaz brothers. Excavators,
multiple dog teams and dozens of searchers were employed
in looking for the missing men. The ongoing search for Stortz was
delayed at times because of concerns about the dangerous shifting
of the massive debris field.
“William was hard-working, intelligent, and a very kind man,” Mc-
Connell said in her statement. “Our family knew him and he was
well-respected throughout Sitka. William and the Diaz brothers
will be missed. One day the landslides will be cleaned up, but Sitka
will never be the same.”
The slides left a debris field that engineers estimated at 45,000 cubic
yards. Even as the body recovery was under way, engineers were directing
work to relieve the pressure of the water and mud slurry at
the toe of the slide to prevent damage to the other residential areas
just below the slide area.
With the last of the victims recovered, the emergency effort became
entirely focused on clearing the area and preventing further damage.
A large pump was flown in Tuesday to help drain the area, and
a battalion chief of the Seattle Fire Department, Thomas Richardson,
flew in to give guidance. Richardson worked on last year’s
slides at the town of Oso, Wash., which killed more than 40 people.
Richardson said that tragedy has a lot in common with what happened
in Sitka last week.
“It’s very similar. It’s déjà vu. Both the techniques that they’re
using and the conditions they’re encountering are almost identical
to what we had,” Richardson said.
He added that he doesn’t consider himself an expert, just someone
with experience that no one has until they’re forced into a
“Most people don’t have a lot of experience. We didn’t have
any experience responding to landslides,” he said. “Oso was by
far the biggest one that any of us had ever encountered. It was
around a square mile.”
It took around four months for all of the bodies to be recovered
from that slide, and Richardson said techniques used were similar
to those being used in Sitka, and that the cleanup efforts on
the Kramer Avenue slide are going well.
“I think they’ve been efficient with their operation from the
beginning,” he said.
City Clerk Sara Peterson, the designated spokesperson for the
city’s emergency effort, said operations now are focused entirely
on cleanup and repairing the damaged city infrastructure.
“We’re still in emergency recovery mode until Jacobs Circle
residents are able to get back into their houses,” Peterson said.
“We’re assessing the water and power issues for Jacobs Circle,
we’re trying to get those people back in their homes as soon as
The slide cut off water and power to that neighborhood, which
is just off Kramer Avenue closer to Halibut Point Road.
A fire hydrant was knocked 10 feet down Kramer Avenue in the
slide, and the one-inch water line to the destroyed house at 410
Kramer Ave. was also broken, causing water to drain into the
debris field. Buggins said they are troubleshooting to discover
leaks, and making repairs.
“At 5:30 a.m. my guys came up and pressured-up the 16-inch
pipe past Jacobs Circle, and the hydrant is leaking,” Environmental
Superintendent Mark Buggins said today. “We have to
dig back, and find the valve to isolate the hydrant.”
It will take a couple of days just to reach the hydrant to make
repairs and restore water service to Jacobs Circle, Buggins said.
“We’re working on doing what we need to do to restore water
and power, and making sure the sanitary sewer will work,” he
Buggins said tests run this afternoon confirmed that the sanitary
sewer is working as it should for the three homes on Jacobs
“We don’t want to tell people they can go back, and five days
later they find out they have no sewer,” Buggins said.
The houses on Kramer Avenue and Jacobs Circle are still without
August 26th at 9:32pm
The Backdoor would like to donate all proceeds from sales on Saturday
the 29th of August to the family of William Stortz. William
was a regular at the Backdoor for many years. He was often found
at the cafe on Saturday mornings with his best friends. We know he
will be missed dearly. So please come down to the cafe on Saturday
morning, grab a coffee and share thoughts and stories of William.
August 27 at 1:47am
I would just like send out my sincerest and deepest condolences
to all of the Diaz and Stortz families and friends and to all those
affected by the landslides... I’m so sorry for your loss... there aren’t
any words or anything I can do to take away your pain and sorrow
and im very sorry for that I wish I could... but please I’d like you
all to know that if there is anything possible that I could do to help
in anyway big or small or even to be there for anyone to just talk
with...pray with...hug.. laugh or cry or to just be there with someone
to sit go for a walk or a drive...please know that I will be here
for you.... I personally experienced the hardships and know of the
feelings that come from landslides as to the loss of everything as
myself and my family were once misplaced and lost everything we
ever had in a landslide just a couple years back and believe me...it
hurts and the feeling of being lost or misplaced and the heartache
of knowing that in just a moments time everything was gone but
the clothes on our backs...We have a very wonderful and loving
community that comes together to help in times needed and for
that I am very greatful for as well... there is more that needed be
done after the generosity and help that the community provided...
I myself have had nothing but great experience working with red
cross and a few other places that are the next steps to getting back
on your feet..and its definately hard knowing where to go and who
can help...and most of all very hard to ask for help itself for many...I
know it was hard for myself... and its always good to reach out and
talk with people it really does help a lot with the healing process.
.. it will take time to adjust and overcome obstacles to get back on
your feet to feel good again yourself and feel like your finally on
track or that you finally have a place or finally things are coming
together. .. I know that I have just recently started feeling complete
again and that I’m finally to a point in life with myself that
im feeling better about what has happened and has accepted it and
find the strentgh to keep pushing and moving on... I know I was
crushed inside...hurt...felt like everything was just taken away. ..and
to have my daughter and explain to her why everything was gone
and that we didn’t have a home or anything anymore was the worst
pain of it all...to try to be strong in front of her while holding back
the tears and heartache and to not show her the struggle and hurt
was hard and painful, but it was what I knew had to be done. The
only thing that I could do was be greatful that we were not hurt and
explain to her the importance of that and the importance of support
we had from the community, our family, friends and the dear
lord jesus for helping us and guiding us through our heartache and
situation and that in time we would be stronger and we would be
ok.... it would just take time. So we always try to give back in anyway
possible... we are always donating items back to the Salvation
Army and white e... they definitely do so much for our community
and help many families and I get her to come and help me when I
volunteer at the church as well... it helps us feel as if we are able to
help and give back to the community to help the circle go around...
its a sense of knowing and teaching our daughter that its great to
give and support our community and to help others in need and to
teach her to always be there to listen or to be there to lend a hand
a hug a smile or just to be there or to comfort them...because some
day some where someone will need someone... someone may need
help... and some might not have the strentgh or courage to ask for
help... because we once ourselves were in need... to be able to give
back and help if possible is the best feeling and knowing that even a
smile can change the day for anyone... so please... if there is anything...I
am here... again I am sorry for all your loss. .. I pray that
the dear Lord Jesus be with you all to comfort you, guide you and
give you all the strentgh and courage to move forward in life and
be with you all along the way and help with all of the obsticles that
may come.. AMEN...
Counseling Is Offered In Wake Of Landslide
Published by the Sitka Sentinel on Thursday, 27 August 2015
By Shannon Haugland and Tom Hesse
Sentinel Staff Writers
The coming weeks and months will be a time to keep an eye on
yourself, as well as on your friends, family and neighbors, who may
be suffering disaster stress and grief from the Aug. 18 landslide,
mental health counselors said today.
A panel of five mental health professionals representing Youth
Advocates of Sitka, Sitka Counseling and SEARHC talked to a
group of reporters at the fire hall to discuss possible symptoms and
reactions to the disaster that took three lives, and also to list the
counseling services available.
“We’re going to go through a series of emotions and it’s going to
affect people differently, some more than others. And some people
won’t always reach out for help,” said Al Stevens, the assistant fire
chief and incident commander for the landslide response effort.
The important thing to know, the experts said, is that there are several
avenues available for help, and a trained group of professionals
are ready to listen.
Stevens said he wants to get the word out to the community “to
allow people to confidentially get with these folks and get back to
normal life,” Stevens said.
Those needing help may call 747-3636, and ask for “Community
Response Counseling” for free counseling.
“What they can expect is a safe place in a confidential setting where
they can talk about what they need to get off their chest in the
presence of someone whose focus at that point in time is to listen to
them, seeking understanding and trying to be helpful and then aiding
that person in recognizing what can be helpful to that person,”
said John Raasch, clinical director of Youth Advocates of Sitka.
The city’s emergency response plan includes a mental health component,
which was added a few years ago.
“It’s all of us together, responding to the community as opposed
to our individual organizations responding,” said Amy Zanuzoski,
executive director of Sitka Counseling.
In response to the Aug. 18 slide, mental health organizations coordinated
to make sure counselors were on hand during and after
the disaster to talk to family members and friends of the victims, as
well as the searchers and rescue workers, and other responders who
have been volunteering long hours on the mission. The same people
may need additional help in the coming weeks and months, the
counseling panel said.
But others in the community – including those not connected to
the slide victims or the emergency itself – may also be reacting, and
it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for any of a number of symptoms.
“Most weren’t involved in the immediate crisis but it’s part of an
environment of our community – everyone has heard of it,” said
Raasch. “Young people may be experiencing this a little bit differently
in that children, oftentimes, will experience what their
parents are experiencing but are unable to show or talk about
what they’re going through. And for parents and adults who
are guardians of children, it’s worth the effort to check in with
their children and see how they’re doing because they may have
heard about this through other people. They may be hearing
about it at the first day of school and being aware of their child’s
behavior and how they’re dealing with it is going to be helpful
It’s also important to note the reactions to the incident may be
delayed – and long-lasting.
“It’s not something that comes and goes away,” said Carol Berge,
who works in human resources at Sitka Counseling.
“Maybe in a week, two weeks, three months, a year later, this is
still active,” Raasch said.
Physical reactions, strong negative feelings, difficulty in thinking
clearly, problematic or risky behaviors, social conflicts and
depression are among the common responses. Those affected
may also experience a reluctance to leave home or not return
home, low energy and fatigue.
“One of the most common responses that we see in clinical
incidences is changes in all of the major functions,” said Marita
Bailey, clinical director at Sitka Counseling. “So in terms of
bodily sensations, things they may notice are changes in heart
rate, difficulty sleeping, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep,
difficulty thinking clearly. They may find they’re having a hard
time concentrating or problem solving. They may have a hard
time remembering things. They may also be engaging in risky
behaviors such as misuse of alcohol or prescription drugs, unnecessary
Each call that comes in will be handled differently depending
on the background and needs of the caller, and all calls are
confidential, the counselors said. The person answering the line
may refer the caller to another agency for counseling.
Raasch encouraged residents to be aware of how they’re feeling
in the coming weeks; the panel said people shouldn’t hesitate to
“One way to look at it is, if you’re experiencing something
and you’re not sure why, and you have a hunch that it might
have something to do with what you’re hearing about or even
the work you’ve done if you’re a responder, and it’s something
you’ve never experienced before and you think you don’t want
to handle it alone or you want to talk it out, confidential counseling
can do that for you,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you need to
have a problem.”
“Knowing you need help and you’re asking for it is really a sign of
strength,” added Bailey.
The number 747-3636 is the regular office number at Sitka Counseling,
and will be answered during regular business hours. A free
counseling appointment for the caller will be scheduled when the
caller uses the phrase “Community Response Counseling.”
William Stortz, 1953-2015: A Compelling, Complicated Heart
Published by Raven Radio on Thursday, 27 August 2015
By Robert Woolsey
William Stortz was the most complicated man many of us will ever
know. He was deep and steadfast and difficult to fathom, like a rock
formation that may seem strange or familiar depending on which
side of it you’re standing.
But complicated doesn’t mean contradictory. The chamber-music
junkie was never at odds with the motorhead; the city official did
not chafe at the salmon fisherman who stacked kings on the deck
of his skiff like cordwood. Walking down the street to grab a double-Americano
from the Back Door, William measured his universe
in long, deliberate strides.
William Stortz was born in Concordia, Kansas, on March 15, 1953,
and died on August 18 of this year in Sitka, Alaska. The community’s
building official, he was inspecting drainage in a new subdivision
during an early autumn downpour — the best possible time to
do that work. The landslide that caught William, along with Elmer
and Ulises Diaz, took more than their lives; it also swept away some
of our faith in the landscape and its power to sustain us. We will
now lay these men to rest, but rebuilding our relationship to this
place will need more time.
William’s life and character were shaped by less-than-ideal circumstances:
His mother, Dorothea, a nurse, died of cancer just two
months before his high school graduation. William put his college
plans on hold to help out his dad, Marvin, who was Concordia’s
sheriff and magistrate. After two years, William no longer saw the
point of more academics. Instead, he joined his brother Steve in Ft.
Lauderdale and learned yacht restoration.
It’s not hard to imagine William making this decision. He read
extensively and had a huge intellect; any classroom might feel small
with him in it. He also was a remarkable conceptual thinker when
it came to construction. Erin Kitka, his colleague for 23 years in
Facilities Management at SEARHC, says William wouldn’t rip out
an old porch on a building unless he had the new material already
ordered “and practically measured and cut.” If you were to ask
William about his work he might just say, “I’m in the trades.” But
his hands and brain were harnessed in an out-of-the-ordinary way
that allowed him to rebuild an outboard from the pistons up while
a Schubert quintet pulsed through his ears.
After Florida, Steve and William returned to Kansas and rented
a farm together. William cared for his sister Patty’s kids while she
took advanced health care training. They were ages 6 and 9, and
William was about 22. He was married briefly during this time, to
Jean Ann Neeley.
In 1980 the brothers again jumped time zones and moved to Silverthorn,
Colorado, to ski and build houses. Three years later, William
and his dog, Josh, made the long drive to Fairbanks to visit friends.
Fairbanks had good snow for skiing, some opportunities in custom
furniture building that attracted William, and a young woman
named Libby Finesmith who attracted him even more. They met at
a party for (now Fairbanks mayor) Luke Hopkins in January, 1984,
and were married seven months later. Daughter Sasha joined the
family the following year.
Libby introduced William to Brendan Kelly in Fairbanks. Kelly
is the chief scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and a former
science adviser to the White House, but at the time he was
doing research on seals for the University of Alaska. William
was working in the UAF maintenance shop. Kelly had spent
several springs unsuccessfully trying to capture and tag spotted
seals in arctic ice. His entire team was discouraged, and he
turned to William for help.
Kelly invited William to his research camps four times to
consider ways to trap the seals harmlessly. The solution finally
came, but it wasn’t on the ice. It was in a bathtub. “He called
when I was in Juneau — he had just jumped out of the shower,”
Kelly says. “I have this image of the guy standing naked at his
phone table!” William’s eureka moment was an idea for a new
net — one that proved instrumental in moving Kelly’s research
Contract work in Fairbanks eventually connected William to
the tribal health system, and in 1988 he landed a job in Sitka
as the project manager in Facilities Management at SEARHC.
He stayed 23 years.William approached life in Sitka with humility.
He apprenticed himself to Erin Kitka and his family and
became a serious hunter and fisherman. For over two decades,
every time he left the dock William notified Kitka of his float
plan. On the day he went missing, Libby called Erin just to be
sure that William had not intended to be away.
“We were like an old married couple,” Kitka says of William.
“Always fighting, always close.” Kitka is a few years younger,
and loved to test William’s limits. On their last alpine deer hunt
William’s heart started an irregular rhythm. “He went into a-fib
and laid down in the muskeg, kicking his knees up to his chest,
trying to convert his heartbeat!” Eventually William recovered
and continued the climb. Kitka insisted on going back to town.
William relented, “but only after a few choice words.”
During his SEARHC years William became a civic leader. A
long volunteer gig at Raven Radio hosting Night Jazz morphed
into board membership at the station. When Newt Gingrich
pressed Congress to cut funding to public broadcasting 20 years
ago, William helped forge CoastAlaska, which allowed Southeast
Alaska’s five community stations to survive independently.
In 1998, Alascom put the Cable House up for sale and Raven
Radio was the logical buyer, but Sitka’s assembly split over
whether to grant the station a loan from the city’s economic development
fund. William, among others, conveyed the problem
to Sen. Ted Stevens — one of public radio’s greatest allies — and
after a few calls from the senator’s office, the Sitka assembly
magically unified overnight. The loan is long-since paid off, and
the beautifully-restored Cable House anchors the south end of
William became Sitka’s building official in 2011. He was nine
months short of retirement when he went to inspect the culverts
on Kramer Avenue on August 18. It was his sharp attention
to detail that put him in the path of a disaster. Like many,
I have taken well-drawn, but ill-considered, building plans to
William in his office at city hall and watched him sigh deeply
and turn to his copy of the Uniform Building Code, like a rabbi
to the Torah. Beams may bend, but William would not. He
tolerated some scatterbrained ideas, but not at the peril of the
future occupant of a building. His signature on a permit was a
blessing, a gesture of faith in your ability to get it right.
Sitka breathed a collective sigh of relief when William’s body was
found on the afternoon of August 25, one week after the slide took
him. We don’t care for mysteries when it comes to the people we
care about most. In William’s view, death is the final act in our
existence, the period at the end of a long and vibrant sentence. So
we’ll continue on the journey William shared for 62 years, but it
will be damned hard to pull away from the dock without him. We’re
feeling shaken and uncertain, and it may take some time lying on
the damp earth to restore our hearts to their normal rhythm.
Elmer Diaz, Ulises Diaz: Brothers, Sons, Friends
Published by Sitka Sentinel on Friday, 28 August 2015
Elmer Diaz died in a landslide on August 18, 2015, in Sitka. He was
26 years old and a resident of Sitka.
He was born in French Camp, California (San Joaquin Valley), on
February 15, 1989. He moved to Sitka at age 4 with his parents and
Elmer attended the Sitka School District and graduated from Sitka
High School in 2007. In high school he loved sports including
basketball, football, and baseball. He also participated in the high
school choir. His first trophy was received in Blatchley Middle
School basketball. In high school he was a two-time state champ in
baseball. He carried these skills into adulthood, playing City League
He was a proud 49ers fan, and his relentless passion for sports
brought friends together in ways that made the simple things
special. His smile strengthened the spirits of those around him and
provided a comfort that will be missed by many.
Elmer was loved by family, lifelong friends and his high school
sweetheart, Kori Lindstrom.
Ulises Diaz died in a landslide on August 18, 2015, in Sitka. He was
born on July 9, 1990, in French Camp, California (San Joaquin Valley).
He had lived in Sitka since age 3. He attended the Sitka School
District and graduated from Sitka High School in 2008.
Ulises loved sports including basketball, baseball, and track. He
also participated in the high school choir.
Ulises, better known as “Uli”, was a friend to everybody. He had an
uncanny ability to bring people together, and will undoubtedly be
remembered for his infectious laugh, and loving spirit.
Ulises worked side by side with his older brother Elmer for Four
Points Painting. They were the quality of workers that any employer
would hope for.
The Diaz brothers were always together.
The Diaz brothers lived full lives, serving as an inspiration to many
of their peers. Whether they were hiking a mountain, or enjoying
drinks with their friends, it wasn’t work or a career that defined
their happiness, it was the here and now, and the people they
shared moments with. People couldn’t help but be pulled in by their
equally magnetic personalities.
They contributed to the community through their work in construction
around Southeast Alaska, being role models to younger
kids on the basketball court, and as reliable friends to so many of
the young adults in Sitka.
Family was central in both their lives. This is evident in the
adoration they shared for their little brother Memito. Elmer and
Uli were not only brothers, but those closest to them considered
them to be true soulmates. The brothers spent nearly every
day together as children, as young adults, and will continue to
remain together for eternity.
Both brothers are survived by their parents Guillermo and
Lupita Diaz of Sitka; sister Nancy Navarrete of Escondidas
California; brother Memito Diaz of Sitka; two nieces, Cithlaly
Naylea and Aysha; and nephew Andy Navarrete of Escondido,
They are also survived by many aunts, uncles and cousins in
California and Mexico
August 28 at 3:37am
Thank you all. I am beyond flattered.
But I don’t feel that I am Sitka’s best choice for an Assembly member
and here is why.
What happened on Sitka Chatters this week had very little to do
with me. This is what’s called a grassroots movement--and why do
grassroots movements happen? Because passionate, strong, driven
people come together and create something amazing.
This week was about the people who worked long, grueling, wet
hours to find our men. This was about Sitkans who opened their
homes and arms to those who could not go home. It was about
the homeless who stepped up to volunteer. It was about 5,000 lbs
of food being delivered to Sitka. It was locals cooking around the
clock to feed workers and evacuees. It was about someone wanting
to make people smile and paying for 300 dollars worth of coffee. It
was about our emergency crew leaders barely sleeping. People all
over opened their wallets, even when they knew it was their last
dollar. It was about Sitkans coming together to be Sitka Strong.
Sitka Chatters was merely used as a catalyst for the movement and
that is so amazing.
So no, I wouldn’t serve you well making decisions for you. I do my
best when I can be here at home with my family, cheering all of you
incredible people on.
Remember to give yourselves credit where that credit is due. I am
so proud of this community. Thank you.
Gov Says Sitka Slide Official State Disaster
Published by the Sitka Sentinel on Monday, 31 August 2015
By Shannon Haugland and Tom Hesse
Sentinel Staff Writers
Gov. Walker made it official Friday, declaring Sitka’s Aug. 18 landslides
an official state disaster.
The declaration activates the state’s public assistance, individual
assistance and temporary housing programs for those directly
affected by the landslides, and aid to the city for the cost of its
response and recovery efforts, the governor’s office said in Friday’s
Heavy rainfall caused landslides that killed three men and damaged
private and public property including the city’s roads and water,
sewer and electrical utilities. Threats of further slides caused the
city to evacuate homes near the Kramer Avenue neighborhood.
City Administrator Mark Gorman today said Friday’s announcement
from the governor’s office was a “tremendous relief.”
“We are very, very relieved and we very much appreciate the attention
and concern on the part of the governor to get this through,”
he said. “This will go a long way in terms of offsetting expenses
associated with the landslides. It’s really a tremendous relief from a
financial point of view.”
The governor issued this statement about his disaster declaration:
“Throughout this heartbreaking disaster, the strength of Sitka’s
community has prevailed. Emergency responders and volunteers
have been working diligently to protect the lives and property of
their friends and families, and the outpouring of assistance has
been unwavering. I am tremendously proud of the kindness and
unity Alaskans have displayed during this time of hardship. Sitka
will remain in our thoughts and prayers as we provide the city and
borough the assistance they need to recover.”
The state’s public assistance program covers emergency response
costs such as temporary and permanent repairs to “critical infrastructure.”
“The program is designed to help state, local and tribal governmental
entities, as well as certain private non-profit organizations,
restore infrastructure damaged by a specific event to pre-disaster
conditions,” the governor’s office said. “Funding will be available for
emergency protective measures, temporary and permanent repairs
to infrastructure, and technical and funding assistance needed to
repair or replace damaged facilities.”
The state’s Individual Assistance Individual and Family Grant program
is designed to provide financial help to individuals or families
for damages to a primary residence, primary transportation, essential
personal property and medical, funeral and dental needs, which
were a direct result of a declared disaster and for which other
assistance is either unavailable or inadequate.
Gorman said the state is sending a team next week to walk city
officials and individuals through procedures for financial help.
He said the city is ready, and has been keeping track of expenses
in the ways recommended by the state.
“They’ve been very helpful to us,” Gorman said.
Sitka Fire Department Assistant Chief Al Stevens, the incident
commander for the landslide emergency, said Friday marked
the final day of the “operations center” at the fire hall. “We’re
pretty much done,” he said. “We’ve demobilized everyone, including
This marks a “return to normalcy,” although “mounds and
mounds” of paperwork remain to be worked through, he said.
Stevens said he’s still calculating the number of workers and
volunteers who participated in the response, from fire hall and
police and other city employees, to the hundreds of volunteers
who manned roadblocks at Kramer Avenue or cooked meals, to
the state and federal workers from Sitka and out of town.
Stevens said he has 379 workers and volunteers in his count, but
expects that number will top 400 by the time he’s finished.
“We called in a lot of people, a lot of agencies, from here, Ju-
neau, Anchorage,” he said. “We called in a lot.”
Stevens said “demobilization” marks the date on which the city
is saying it can handle the repair and cleanup work on its own.
There is still a mountain of debris to be hauled away, and utility
repair work to be completed on Kramer Avenue, as well as at
the sites of the other slides in the road system. But that is scheduled
to be completed over the next few weeks, city staff said
“It marks a milestone,” Stevens said of the demobilization. “It
means we as a city can handle the rest ourselves, including the
oil spill.” He said the official start of the citywide emergency was
Aug. 17, with the discovery that thousands of gallons oil had
been accidentally released from a city power plant into Sitka
Sound. The unrelated mudslides, one of which killed three men,
occurred the following day.
By Samantha Cox
The day began like any other typical southeast Alaskan deluge-stricken
morning. As torrential rains wetted our ground, it was
still half-exciting to see the power of our weather at work.
That morning as I drove my children to school I noticed that my
road was washing out and was pleased to see how hard our City
workers were working on resolving the issue.
The website I moderated, Sitka Chatters, was quiet that day, with
exception to the typical business advertisements, complaints about
other drivers, and curiosity over sirens that were heard.
It didn’t take long for the horror to settle in to the bones of locals.
Three of our own were missing in a catastrophic landslide. And we
weren’t talking about a little mud trickling down a hillside. This was
the kind of landslide that roars like a freight train and brings with it
a seemingly unending amount of rip-roaring old-growth trees and
hundreds upon thousands of pounds of suffocating mud.
Thousands of locals were spurred in to action. Masses of people
showed up to help with a search that lasted for days. Others took
to their cupboards and began providing meals for the workers and
volunteers. Construction workers abandoned their job sites and
brought their equipment in to help with the search. No one in our
town was unstirred.
The website, Sitka Chatters, instantly blew up as those who wanted
to help logged on to find out how. What had previously been a
2000-member site bloomed in to a webpage with more than 4,000
people, all needing to know what they could do.
Together we amassed and organized information as quickly as possible
to make sure help was placed where it was most needed: where
the food needed to go, where and when volunteers were needed,
how to help the families who were searching for loved ones, where
we could donate, and so on.
Locals were frightened and needed to have a sense of purpose. On
the first day I requested a list be made of homes that were open to
those families who had lost homes or were unable to go back to
their houses which had been made unsafe because of the slides.
Locals warmly began to write “my home can hold four.” “We have
food and beds.” “I can take pets.” Hotels began to post on Chatters
that they would take people in, free of charge. All housing needs
were met. In typical emergency situations an organization will
come in and arrange for lodging. But Sitkans, utilizing Sitka Chatters,
had no need for that service.
On the second day of the search I opened up an account for donations
in the name Sitka Chatters Emergency Fund, with the thought
that any money raised could be put towards the people who were
displaced from their homes and towards the families who were
missing loved ones. Others opened funds as well and we used the
website to get the word out on the different locations that people
could donate to. I was approached for an interview with ABC news
and was able to publicize those fund accounts nationally, and soon
money from all over the country began to pour in.
By the time that I went on air, Sitkans had come up with the idea to
have daily auctions on Sitka Chatters. Generous artists, photographers,
business owners, and more began sending me their items to
auction off. We had beautiful Native artwork, original photograph
prints, flight-seeing tours, certificates to local businesses, clothing,
jewelry, sea otter pillows, locally-made crafts, and so much more.
Between the auction, different fund accounts and a benefit concert,
Sitkans and kind folks from all over the United States raised more
than $50,000 dollars.
By the third day bodies had begun to surface from the wreckage. As
we let go of the hope that our beloved locals would be found alive,
Sitka Chatters became a place where we could console each other
and express our love, gratitude, sorrow, and thoughts. It was a place
where we could stand together in solidarity for the families who
had lost loved ones.
Sitka Chatters was a catalyst for good during one of the most
heart-rending situations Sitka had ever faced. It was essentially a
window, allowing all to see exactly how this small seaside community
can pull together and help each other when we need to.
Through grief and hardship, it became apparent that this town is
truly one of the kindest and strongest communities anyone should
ever have the honor of living in. I will never forget that for as long
as I am alive.
30 people donated auction items
In total, the items and services were worth over 5,000 dollars.
In the days following the slide Sitka Chatters gained 2000 more
members from all over the country--all people who were concerned
about what was happening here. We also gained the following of
several news stations, as Chatters was the quickest and most available
way for people to get information.
The Go Fund Me I set up (Sitka Chatters Emergency Fund) raised
14,000 dollars in two weeks.