Mudslide in California traps 30

Friday, December 26, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- A mudslide swept over a Greek Orthodox youth camp Thursday, trapping up to 30 people as heavy rains triggered flooding in areas ravaged by wildfires last month, authorities said.

Nine to 12 of those victims were rescued from the Saint Sophia Camp in Waterman Canyon, just north of San Bernardino, and needed medical attention. Authorities were not certain how many other people had been at Camp Sophia -- if any.

There could be up to 18 people who remained trapped under mud and debris Thursday, said Sgt. Dave Caddel of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

Details about the victims and the extent of their injuries were not immediately available.

Television reports showed a surging stream of water in the canyon, which was a sea of gray mud.

The mudslide occurred exactly two months after a wildfire started in the upper portion of the canyon in the San Bernardino Mountains. The fire eventually consumed just over 91,000 acres.

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 1 million acres.

Flooding in Waterman Canyon was getting worse late Thursday, forcing officials to pull back some emergency personnel, county fire officials said. Authorities evacuated residents of Waterman Canyon and closed off the road leading to the canyon.

A bridge washed out in the canyon and several structures were threatened, said Clifford Ellis, a supervisor at the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said search and rescue crews "are having to go around the mountain and come down into the area where the mudslide has occurred, which is only delaying the rescue operation."

The camp hosts religious retreats for children ages 7 to 17 during the summer months as well as other events year-round.

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