Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 7 News List

At least seven found dead in Californian mudslides

DISASTER Rescue workers were trying to find victims by poking the mud with long poles this weekend. Nine people remained missing after two camps were engulfed

AP , SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA

A firefighter watches over a trapped man that had been washed away in torrential rains on Thursday at Waterman Canyon, California.

PHOTO: AFP

Searchers slogging through waist-high muck found seven people dead and looked for at least nine others missing after mudslides engulfed two camps in the San Bernardino Mountains in a terrifying torrent of soil, boulders and tree trunks.

The mudslides were set off on Christmas Day after a downpour fell on hillsides that had been stripped of vegetation by wildfires in October and November. With nothing to hold the soil in place, trees and rocks went roaring down the hillsides, along with the dark-brown mud.

"I thought I was going to die," said Brian Delaney, 19, who was trapped up to his neck before rescuers pulled him out of the mud that crashed into the recreation center at a trailer-home encampment in Devore.

Two bodies were found on Friday near the trailer camp, San Bernardino County authorities said. One was identified by county authorities as Janice Arlene Stout-Bradley, 60. Residents said she was the campground manager.

No one else was missing in Devore, said sheriff's Deputy Kris Phillips. Thirty-two trailers were destroyed.

Five bodies were found below a Greek Orthodox retreat, the Saint Sophia Camp. Twenty-seven people were believed to have been spending Christmas Day with the camp's caretaker when the wall of mud swept away two buildings on one side of the camp. Fourteen of the people were rescued on Christmas Day.

Finding people caught in the mudslides was time-consuming because victims could have been washed far down the canyon, county sheriff's spokesman Chip Patterson said.

"The area is so big. There was so much water, so much force. We're talking about a massive flash flood that has gone miles even," Patterson said.

"These folks had no warning," said county fire spokeswoman Tracey Martinez. "It just happened. According to the survivors we've spoken to they didn't even know it was coming until it was there."

"We have no reason to think we can't find survivors and I hope we will," Patterson said. "We're not even close to giving up."

In the Devore area, on the east side of the Cajon Pass running between the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges, rainfall totaled 11.15cm, according to the National Weather Service. On the San Gabriel side of the pass, 21.76cm of rain fell.

On Friday, with the roads and bridges washed out, sheriff's deputies and firefighters had to hike over the rough terrain and climb over or around rocks and fallen trees to resume the search at the camp in Waterman Canyon, about 90km east of Los Angeles. The mud was 3.5m to 4.5m deep in places.

Searchers tried to find victims by poking the mud with long poles.

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