By Dominique Johnson
The North Star Catholic
On December 2, Deacon Vince Hansen was on his way to check on a family member’s house after days of heavy rain in Haines when he heard what he thought was a construction truck dropping a large load. Then he heard the same sound again, and a call came over his fire department radio, with a caller reporting their neighbor’s house sliding into the ocean.
Deacon Vince, who serves as a volunteer firefighter in Haines, was one of the first responders on the scene of the Haines mudslide last month. He initially thought that he and the other firefighters would get there and be able to start prying and digging, but once they began to scout the scene, “we realized that this thing was gigantic,” Deacon Vince said. “The slide came from near the top of the mountain and scraped everything below it off into the ocean.” After 20 minutes at the site, all firefighters were called off because the slide was still moving. Because of instability, extensive ground searching on the slide is still on hold. Two persons remain missing, one is a young kindergarten teacher whom Deacon Vince helped prepare for confirmation years ago.
More than 20 people living beyond the slide were evacuated by boat. Although their homes were mostly undamaged, they remain evacuated indefinitely because of the unstable hillside. Several other areas were temporarily evacuated due to flooding and other potential slides. The homes of several families in those areas were also damaged.
Since the slide, Deacon Vince has been serving as a “fetch it” person, assisting where needed to support the searchers, geologists and others involved in the search, assessment and recovery efforts. The local Emergency Operations Center has marshaled resources from all over the state to respond in a coordinated manner to assess and address the disaster.
Deacon Vince shared that seeing the support the members of the community have given to the families of those lost and those who were evacuated from their homes has been heartwarming. The morning after the mudslide, Deacon Vince helped support the planned search for those who were missing. He said about 90 people showed up; “most of them were young people ready and geared up to help.” The community’s support chain, formed earlier for the pandemic, remains in place to check in on people and continues to help find resources for their neighbors who might be overlooked. The local Salvation Army, backed up by the American Legion, Red Cross and other organizations, immediately started caring for the displaced. There is a close connection with the Haines Ministerial Association, which has also provided spiritual support along with working closely with the extensive counseling resources provided.
On top of his emergency response role, Deacon Vince has also been there to give spiritual support to those looking for prayers during the tragedy. Shortly after the events took place, he said family members reached out to him and his wife Jansy, looking “to be lifted up in prayer.” An active member of the ambulance crew passed away suddenly at home while the response was still ongoing and Deacon Vince helped prepare him for burial and led the graveside service. Deacon Vince added that the Haines Ministerial Association has organized candlelight services that provided people opportunities to come together to pray. One, following the Christmas parade, had hundreds in attendance.
Members of the parish community at Sacred Heart in Haines have shared resources to help as they can. Others are also emergency responders. Deacon Vince shared that one parishioner used his excavator to address flooding and fix people’s driveways. He added that the support coming from outside of Haines has been a blessing as well. “The resources that they have provided, hopefully, can be stretched out, because right now most of the needs for shelter, food and clothing are being met, but some families might need support over the long term.”
Deacon Vince said the community is grateful for the prayers and support from around the state. If you want to help support those displaced because of the mudslide and flooding in Haines, Deacon Vince said the best way to donate is through the Salvation Army, the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation and the Red Cross.