Alaska News

Southeast Alaska search crews find final victim of Sitka landslide

JUNEAU -- Sitka search crews on Tuesday afternoon recovered the body of city building official William Stortz, 62, who died in a massive landslide a week ago.

The bodies of the two other slide victims, Elmer Diaz, 26, and Ulises Diaz, 25, were recovered last week.

Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell issued a statement praising the search crews -- which included Sitka firefighters, construction workers, and volunteers from the community and neighboring towns -- and remembering the victims.

"William and the Diaz brothers will be missed. One day the landslides will be cleaned up, but Sitka will never be the same," she said.

The landslide struck Aug. 18, when 2.5 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours, and a thousand-foot landslide came down Harbor Mountain, smashing into the Kramer Avenue neighborhood.

In one newly-built house, the Diaz brothers were working as painting contractors.

The popular young men had been athletes at Sitka High School, and were remembered by coaches and others as "electric personalities" who were enjoyable to be around.


Tuesday, McConnell praised Stortz's work with the city.

"William was hard working, intelligent, and a very kind man. Our family knew him and he was well respected throughout Sitka," McConnell said.

Stortz has been inspecting newly-built drainage systems in the area. He also served as fire marshal, working over the years with many of those who later served on the search crews.

Sitka family members of the victims held vigil at the landslide site for days as hopes dwindled, but declined to speak publicly.

Tuesday, McConnell praised the searchers' work to bring closure to the city.

"I am very proud of the job the responders did, and the way the entire community pulled together during this very sad time," said McConnell. "We have found these men who were much loved and brought some closure for their families."

The search effort was suspended Friday when new storms threatened to make the recovery effort even more dangerous, but resumed Monday with dry weather.