Kyle Clayton

Kim Larson, mother of Jenae Larson, and Ellen Larson admire the table that was built by John Carlson and Sylvia Heinz during Saturday's memorial event. The table will be set up at Picture Point in the spring.

The anniversary memorial of the Dec. 2 storm drew more than 150 residents to the small boat harbor and Picture Point on a cold and sunny Saturday where they heard remarks from pastor Matt Jones, Mayor Douglas Olerud and heard songs from Holly Davis and the Haines Threshold choir. Speakers focused on attempting to find meaning amidst tragedy and recovering from trauma.

Jones advised those gathered to try and connect positive, meaningful associations while also paying respect to the residents impacted by the storms that killed two, displaced dozens and destroyed property and infrastructure.

After Davis’ performance of Turn! Turn! Turn! By The Byrds, Jones acknowledged the difficulty of finding meaning in tragedy.

“I understand there is a time for everything. I know that. I get that. I’ve experienced that in life. And yet the purpose part, I can’t make sense of yet,” Jones said. “I don’t think I will know the purpose in this lifetime. I cannot make sense of that.”

Jones acknowledged the myriad volunteers and professionals who assisted in the disaster’s aftermath and honored the memory of Jenae Larson and David Simmons, the two killed in the Beach Road landslide, as examples to live up to. He also remembered Phil Reeves, a Haines Volunteer Fire

Department first responder and Johnnie Willard who both died shortly after the disaster.

“The hardship has taught both ourselves that are older and our younger generation of having the capacity of resilience, of finding a purpose together and to unite in having the strength of commitment,” Jones said. “Those things don’t come in easy times. They come and they develop through hardship, unfortunately.”

After the gathering at the boat harbor where last year’s candlelight vigil was held, the crowd walked to Picture Point where Olerud delivered his speech in front of a table built by Sylvia Heinz and John Carlson.

“I hope this table becomes a spot for contemplation, healing, friendship, and renewal,” Olerud said.

Ellen Larson said the table, with the “Haines Strong” heart symbol carved in the center of the slab top, was a perfect dedication to the community.

“I loved the walk from the boat harbor to Picture Point,” Larson said. “It was really moving to me, to see so many people walking in remembrance of the anniversary. It just felt like Haines really came together in a big way.”

In the Mayor‘s speech (which can be read in its entirety on page 5), Olerud focused on healing from trauma and, like Jones, encouraged residents to live up to the memories of Larson and Simmons. He described Simmons as a unicorn who had friends across the political spectrum who didn’t “see you for your views” but rather “for the person you were.” He said Larson fulfilled her goal of teaching in the same community she grew up in and that her passion for the profession touched the lives of her students.

“I submit to all of you that our path toward healing is to become more like David and Jenae – to emulate the very best of their lives in our own,” Olerud said. “Be open to new ideas, get to know people with different opinions and views than your own, share time with others, invest in our children.”

After Olerud’s speech, residents admired the table, ate hot dogs and drank hot chocolate. Wendell Harren said the event reminded him of last year’s candlelight vigil, but with an added sense of hope.

“The speeches were poignant and emotional,” Harren said. “There was the grief but more smiling and laughing after the tears were shed. I really enjoyed it.”

The recovery group made up of local volunteers has been managing cases in the aftermath of the damage after more than 10 inches of rain fell in two days. The rain caused flooding and landslides. Slides fell across the Haines Highway, Piedad Road, Cathedral Road and Soap Suds Alley. Young Road caved in. Dozens of slides fell across Lutak cutting off access to town for two days and power to 46 homes for five days. Several homes on the Lutak Spur were destroyed and or badly damaged. Flooding displaced dozens of residents across town.

Out of 131 total cases managed by the long term recovery group, 65 households no longer need assistance. Seven households are still displaced and 66 households still need assistance.