Seven dead in California mudslides, nine missing
Reuters.com, Dec. 26, 2003
Seven people were found dead Friday and nine remained missing in two separate mudslides that struck this rugged canyon area east of Los Angeles on Christmas Day.
Five bodies were discovered in a mudslide in Old Waterman Canyon, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles, and two more were found dead at a slide at a campground in nearby Devore.
The five Waterman Canyon bodies were believed to be family and friends of the caretaker at St. Sophia Camp, a retreat run by the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles.
The caretaker, identified by church officials as Jorge Manzon, was believed to be among the nine missing -- some of them children as young as eight months old.
Father John Bakas, the dean of St. Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles, said the camp had been closed for cleanup and repairs from wildfires that charred the area two months ago.
Bakas said church officials last heard from Manzon at about 2 p.m. on Thursday.
Authorities said the bodies of a man and woman were recovered on Friday from a campground in nearby Devore, where a wall of mud destroyed 32 trailers. Rescue teams led 52 others at the campground to safety on Thursday.
Search and rescue operations concluded late Friday at Devore, but were expected to continue throughout the night in Waterman Canyon, officials said.
Late Friday night, authorities began to concede that the odds of finding more survivors were diminishing.
''You can imagine that it's not something that's easy to survive,'' said Chip Patterson, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County sheriff's department. ''It's even possible that we're not going to find every body.''
Work crews brought in lights and generators to aid rescue teams who have had contend with mud and debris up to 12 feet deep in some places.
Firefighters used helicopters to evacuate two men who became trapped in canyon homes on a sludge-covered road but planned no other evacuations on Friday despite forecasts for more rain on Saturday.
Heavy rains falling on wildfire-charred mountainsides sent walls of mud crashing through the Waterman Canyon campground shortly after noon Thursday, crushing buildings and snapping 40-foot trees like twigs. The Devore slide occurred hours later.
Fourteen adults and children were rescued Thursday afternoon from the Waterman Canyon mudslide area and were treated at local hospitals.
Those still missing at the St. Sophia Camp may have been trapped in a cabin where they were eating Christmas lunch when it was hit by a wall of mud, a county fire spokeswoman said.
Thursday's torrential rainstorm dumped well over two inches of rain on the greater Los Angeles area and more than three inches in the canyon area. The rains caused the collapse of hillsides denuded two months earlier by the worst wildfires in California history.
Those fires scorched more than 91,000 acres , killing four people and destroying 993 homes throughout the region.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
Up to 20 Missing in Southern California Mudslide
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (Reuters) - At least ten and as many as 20 people were still missing here on Friday morning after waves of mud up to 12 feet high overran a camp in a local canyon, fire officials said as rain and cold weather hampered search efforts.
Officials of the San Bernardino county fire department were forced to call off their search in Old Waterman canyon shortly after 1 a.m. PST (4 a.m. EST) because of inclement weather and conditions made worse by wild fires here two months ago that scorched the canyon in foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains and stripped away all ground cover.
As day broke, specially trained mountain search and rescue teams joined by helicopters, search dogs and teams with hiking gear headed back up to the canyon to recommence the search. The area is about 65 miles east of Los Angeles.
Fourteen adults and children were rescued on Thursday afternoon from the mudslide area and were treated at local hospitals. One man remained hospitalized.
Fire officials said two buildings were partially destroyed by the waves of mud caused by an unprecedented Christmas Day rain storm that dumped well over two inches of rain on the greater Los Angeles area. Those rescued indicated the missing may have been trapped in one of those buildings.
"That's where some of them may be buried," said Tracey Martinez, a fire department spokeswoman.
Martinez said it was not clear who the people staying at the camp were because they were not affiliated with the Greek Orthodox church that runs the facility, a children's camp named St. Sophia Camp.
A local Hispanic man in his early 30s who declined to give his name said as he waited at the local sheriff's and fire command post that members of his church had been at the camp Thursday and he believed they were among the trapped people. He declined to give the name of the church.
After Thursday's torrential rainstorm, the first Christmas storm to strike Southern California in 20 years, no further rain was predicted for Friday although rescuers were concerned about temperatures in the low 30s and the continued instability of the canyon area because of the mud and the debris.
The wildfires of October and November, the worst in California history, burned off trees and shrubbery that would normally retain water and prevent severe mudslides.
The fires scorched more than 91,000 acres, killing four people and engulfing 993 homes throughout the region.
Local television showed scenes of rushing water 12 feet deep or more late on Thursday as roads were washed out and rescuers were forced to try to build a temporary bridge to try to bring in heavy equipment to aid the search.
"Conditions are horrible and getting worse," San Bernardino County Fire Marshal Peter Brierty told reporters on Thursday. "It's too dangerous for us to move into that area where the road's been cut."
© Copyright Reuters 2003. All rights reserved.