“All of a sudden, there was a tidal wave that took off from the beach going outwards, and I knew something big had just happened. I look over, and all the water’s going out … and the hillside is just sliding and sending all the trees and everything, the houses, out into the bay in front of town.”

These are the words of a fisherman who was at the Haines Harbor Dec. 2, 2020, when record rainfall sent a massive, 600-foot-wide swath of saturated hillside crashing through a residential area and into Lynn Canal. It was the largest and most tragic of numerous landslides, burying a home directly in its path, killing two. 

Slides and flooding damaged or destroyed houses and left many roads impassable, cutting off access to homes, the freight dock and the airport. 

One organization at the ready was Chilkat Valley Community Foundation, a local fund created to address local needs. It quickly switched gears from Covid-19 response to disaster relief, establishing an Emergency Response Fund with The Alaska Community Foundation and becoming a major partner of the Haines Long Term Recovery Group. 

Disasters and pandemics aside, the Chilkat Valley foundation supports 75 nonprofits benefitting the residents of the Haines Borough and the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan by connecting them to a wide range of services. In emergency mode, the organization provided relief funding for a coordinator to work with nonprofits, government partners, the Chilkat Indian Association, the faith community and volunteers to get residents the help they needed, from food to house repairs and mold remediation — even a chainsaw for clearing downed trees from a couple’s property. 

The team also dealt with how to dispose of 440,000 pounds of wreckage from destroyed homes, flatted forest and other debris.

“Getting rid of the debris is really tough and really expensive,” said Liz Heywood, who heads the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation’s advisory board and evacuated her own home as a precaution. 

“There was a river running right down the middle of our road,” she said. “It had cut down eight feet. That kind of damage was happening all over the borough.

“There are so many pieces to the recovery, even now, that having a coordinator to tie together all the different organizations and activities is really important.”

After two years of focusing on pandemic and storm recovery, the Foundation’s emergency response work is winding down. Once it does, the CVCF team will get back to its regular mission of connecting people to services providing educational, cultural, health, social, historical, environmental, recreational, and arts-related opportunities.