Sat, Dec 27, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US mudslides trap 24 at youth camp

FLOODING Boulders, logs, trees and branches, propelled by heavy rain, tumbled down the San Bernardino Mountains on Thursday, leaving ten people missing


A mudslide swept over a Greek Orthodox youth camp, trapping 24 people as heavy rains triggered flooding in areas ravaged by deadly wildfires last month, authorities said.

Fourteen people were rescued on Thursday from the Saint Sophia Camp in Waterman Canyon, just north of San Bernardino, and did not appear to have serious injuries, sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said. Ten remained missing.

Two rescue teams were trekking by foot through darkness and mud Thursday night in search of more survivors -- one hiking up the canyon and the other hiking down because the road was washed out.

Ten campers covered in mud were treated for minor injuries at St. Bernardino Medical Center in San Bernardino, hospital spokeswoman Kimberly VandenBosch said. The group was "pretty shaken up," she said.

"One man was there with his 3-year-old child and said he grabbed the child and watched his wife and his other child wash away," VandenBosch said.

It was not known whether any of the missing had made it out on their own, Beavers said. Authorities also were not certain if anybody outside the camp area had been buried in the mud.

Boulders, logs, trees and branches, propelled by 250mm to 760mm of rain, tumbled down the San Bernardino Mountains, making rescue efforts treacherous and threatening homes and forcing road closures in several areas. Two cabins at the camp were destroyed. Television reports showed a surging stream of water in Waterman Canyon, which looked like a sea of gray mud.

A bridge was washed out by the debris, making it impossible for vehicles to reach the camp located on a winding roadway to the San Bernardino Mountains.

"The progress is very, very slow," Beavers said. "The rescue efforts have been very difficult as the rain continues to fall, the mud continues to slide."

The mudslide occurred exactly two months after the start of a wildfire that ravaged much of the canyon, consuming just over 36,400 hectares, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and killing four people.

Wildfires make Southern California's mountains much more prone to mudslides because they burn off vegetation that normally would help shore up steep terrain. The fires that hit the region in October and November were the most severe in state history, burning nearly half a million hectares.

Authorities evacuated residents and closed off the road leading to the Waterman Canyon.

Elsewhere in the county, a mudslide damaged several trailers at a campground in Devore. Beavers said 30 to 50 people suffered minor injuries. Several people were unaccounted for, but authorities said they were not believed to be in any danger.

Flood waters became worse late Thursday, forcing officials to pull back some emergency personnel, county fire officials said.

Sergeant Dave Caddel of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said sheriff's search-and-rescue teams would continue to look for possible victims through the night.

The Saint Sophia Camp hosts religious retreats for children ages 7 to 17 during the summer months as well as other events year-round, according to its Web site. Messages left for camp officials were not immediately returned.

Elsewhere in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, authorities ordered residents to evacuate as mudslides threatened homes. Strong wind gusts also downed power lines and disrupted service to various areas of Los Angeles, authorities said. Hundreds of people were without power.

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