Two Haines residents still missing after devastating landslide; Gov. Dunleavy declares emergency

David Simmons and Libby Jacobson at their home in Haines
David Simmons and Libby Jacobson at their home in Haines. Simmons is one of two Haines residents missing after a landslide on Wednesday, December 2. (Photo courtesy of David Simmons’ family)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced on social media on Thursday afternoon that he’s making a disaster declaration following destructive landslides in and around Haines.

“More resources & assistance are on the way for the people of Haines,” he tweeted.

In a separate tweet, the governor said he’d been in touch with Haines officials.

“Every state resource will be made available to the people of Haines in their time of need,” he wrote.

There are still two missing residents. Four of the six people thought to be missing on Wednesday were accounted for Thursday morning. But Jenae Larson and David Simmons have been missing since Wednesday afternoon’s mudslide. They lived at the same Beach Road property now buried in rock, mud and debris.

David Simmons was hired earlier this year to be the Executive Director of the Haines Economic Corporation. He also runs a shuttle business for tourists in the summer months.

His father, Randall Simmons, spoke to him about two hours before the landslide.

“He called me and just was letting me know that there’s a lot of rain going on… And I said, ‘Thank God you’re up in them in the hills are not down where the flooding is going to be.’ And I figured he was safe. This could be you know, up up the road there,” he said.

He got the call from David’s girlfriend, Libby Jacobson, just hours later to say the structures had been swept away and his son was missing.

His father says David is fluent in several languages and has traveled the world, but fell in love with Haines after visiting his cousin.

“Of all the places and around the entire world, Haines was his home forever,” his father said Thursday afternoon.

Jenae Larson holds a puppy on on the porch of the Port Chilkoot Distillery in Haines.
Jenae Larson on the porch of the Port Chilkoot Distillery in Haines. Larson is one of two Haines residents missing after a landslide on Wednesday, December 2. (Photo Courtesy of Jenae Larson’s family)

Jenae Larson is a “beloved kindergarten teacher” at Haines Elementary School, says Roy Getchell, superintendent of schools. She graduated from Haines High School in 2016 and was hired as a teacher by the school district this year.

“She’s somebody that kids look up to, and somebody that colleagues, you know, especially even though she’s young, somebody that her colleagues look up to as well for her, just positive nature and her wisdom and and truthfully are just amazement and in how well she’s done as a brand new teacher this year,” Getchell said.

“Our best hopes, wishes and prayers are with the responders and with the folks that they’re searching for, including Jenae,” he said. “And we love her and want to see her come home for sure. She’s an amazing, amazing person.”

Juneau Economic Development Council Executive Director Brian Holst says he’s worked closely with Simmons in recent months helping the region weather the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. He says Simmons helped spearhead a drive to encourage Haines residents to shop locally and support struggling small businesses in town.

“David is a pleasure to work with, really smart, energetic, also doing some clever, some good work in Haines,” Holst said Thursday. “I know he’s a strong, capable person. So I just am holding out hope that all is well for him.”

As darkness fell around 3:00 p.m. Thursday, Haines Mayor Douglas Olerud announced the search would be suspended until morning light.

The ongoing recovery is supplemented by firefighters from across Southeast Alaska, U.S. Coast Guard personnel and first responders from state agencies. Haines Borough has declared a local disaster with dozens displaced and roads blocked by flooding and debris. With saturated ground from record rainfall, a Flash Flood Watch remains in effect across all of Haines and Skagway until at least Friday afternoon.

This story has been updated. CoastAlaska’s Jacob Resneck contributed to this story.

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