Greek Orthodox Victims of California Mudslide
- Rescue crews slogged past fallen trees and boulders Friday in a search
for at least 10 people missing at a youth camp after a mudslide,
triggered by heavy rain, swept through forested foothills recently
scorched by wildfire. More than a dozen others were rescued.
Traveling by foot because a road bridge was washed out, one team
climbed up the steep terrain and another descended it in an effort to
reach the Saint Sophia Camp in Waterman Canyon, just north of San
The deep mud and slick, rocky ground prevented the crews from reaching
the camp overnight. They were trying again Friday and sent up
helicopters after dawn to scan the area for survivors, said San
Bernardino County Fire Marshal Peter Brierty.
Fourteen people who had been staying at the Greek Orthodox youth camp
when the mudslides swept through had been rescued by late Thursday,
some pulled from the mud and from beneath fallen trees.
Brierty said a group of 24 people had been at the camp celebrating the
holiday. They were in two structures when a surging stream of water and
mud swept through, sweeping away one of the structures and the 10
people inside, he said. The others were also swept into the mud.
"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," said
Kimberly VandenBosch, spokeswoman for St. Bernadine Medical Center in
Ten of the people rescued were treated for minor injuries, including a
man was found buried waist-deep in mud and debris and trapped beneath a
log. Rescue crews were able to cut the log free and carried the man
across a creek to safety, County fire Capt. Rick McClintock said.
Most of those at the camp were believed to be friends and family of the
camp caretaker, said Theofanis Degaitas, parish priest at the Prophet
Elias Greek Orthodox Church in San Bernardino, which is affiliated with
No one answered the phone at the Saint Sophia Camp. The camp hosts
summer religious retreats for children and other events year-round, but
Degaitas said no camp events were scheduled that day.
The storm dumped more than 3 1/2 inches of rain on areas heavily
scarred by wildfires this fall, flooding streets in San Bernardino and
elsewhere, cutting power to more than 67,000 customers and causing
mudslides. The blazes in October and November, the most severe in state
history, burned off vegetation that normally would help shore up the
steep terrain, leaving the ground prone to mudslides.
Much of Waterman Canyon had been scorched by a late October wildfire
that burned more than 91,000 acres, destroyed 993 homes and killed four
On Thursday, authorities evacuated residents who live in the canyon and
closed off the road leading there. A surging stream of mud and water
rushed through the canyon, which looked like a sea of gray mud.
Temperatures dropped into the 40s in the region, and Brierty said
rescuers faced "incredibly mushy, muddy, slippery" conditions. Some of
the rescuers were slipping into the mud up to their hips as they tried
to navigate the canyon, he said.
The debris flows, some more than 6 feet high, contained logs and
branches, making them especially dangerous.
"Even a foot or 2 feet of this will knock you down," Brierty said.