- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — Search and rescue teams yesterday found the bodies of two more people caught by a mudslide that smothered a mountain church camp in a canyon burned bare by fall wildfires in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Seven bodies have been recovered, and seven people remain missing, from a Christmas Day mudslide that ran through St. Sophia Camp. Another mudslide Thursday killed two people at another campground about five miles away.

It wasn’t immediately known whether the bodies recovered yesterday, found near the Greek Orthodox camp’s chapel, were those of children or adults. Four of the other five bodies were of children, and several children were among those still unaccounted for.

Officials called off the search last night and will resume this morning.

“We’ll continue searching,” San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said. “It’s very difficult for someone to survive in these conditions and in these temperatures overnight.”

Rescue crews poked through acres of mud and debris and used a helicopter to fly over the Santa Ana River because pressure from the torrents of mud could have pushed victims miles downstream.

Ms. Beavers said more rain was expected tonight and urged people living near the mountains to be vigilant.

“We ask people ‘Don’t wait. Don’t put your life in jeopardy,’” she said. “We don’t want to have another situation like the one we have here now.”

Twenty-seven persons, many of them Guatemalan immigrants, were believed to have been celebrating Christmas with the caretaker at the church camp when the mudslide roared through, burying buildings under several feet of debris-filled mud and sweeping away two cabins.

Fourteen persons were rescued.

The camp, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, was strewn with boulders and uprooted trees that had been swept down Waterman Canyon after a downpour. Fall wildfires in the area destroyed vegetation that would have helped stabilize the ground.

The camp caretaker was Jorge Monzon, a Guatemalan immigrant who had become co-pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy in Van Nuys, said the Rev. Miguel Garcia, the church’s other co-pastor.

The missing included Mr. Monzon, his wife Carla and their 6-month-old son. The bodies of the Monzons’ daughters Wendy, 17, and Raquel, 9, were found near the camp, said the Rev. Emilio Ruedas of the Church of God Prophecy in San Bernardino, which the Monzons attended.

A memorial service was scheduled for this afternoon at the San Bernardino church.


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