4 Kids Among 7 Mudslide Victims

Several vehicles sit destroyed in the mud at the KOA campground in Devore, Calif., Friday, Dec. 26, 2003. Heavy rains caused severe flooding and mudslides in the area on Thursday. AP

Mudslides that heaved trees and boulders through two mountain camps left authorities with two grim tasks Saturday: identifying four children and three adults killed, and poking through acres of mud and debris in hopes of finding nine people still missing.

The bodies of the children, ages 9 to 17, and one of the adults were found near a Greek Orthodox camp, while the others were found near another campground about five miles away.

"Given the condition of the remains, it has been difficult for the families," said Deputy San Bernardino County Coroner Rocky Shaw.

In Waterman Canyon, where the children's bodies were found, emergency crews searched for nine people, including several children, still missing from Saint Sofia Camp after Thursday's mudslides.

"We're still hopeful at this point that we will find someone alive," said Cindy Beavers, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. "At this point, it's still a search and rescue."

Twenty-seven people, many of them immigrants from Central America, 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 people were rescued.

The camp was strewn with boulders and uprooted trees that had been swept down the canyon after a downpour. Fall wildfires in the area destroyed vegetation that would have helped stabilize the ground.

Next to a small creek, about 50 yards from the caretaker's home, had been a children's playground with swings and climbing bars, said Perry Skaggs, of St. Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles. If the children were out there playing when the mudslide began, they probably wouldn't have had a chance, Skaggs said early Saturday.

Katrine Juarez, 7, and her mother, Rosa, were swept away as her father watched, helpless to save them, said Rosa Juarez's sister, Mildred Najara. Gilberto Juarez had grabbed his 3-year-old daughter, Stephanie, but couldn't reach the rest of his family, Najara said.

The camp caretaker was Jorge Monzon, a Guatamalan immigrant, who had become co-pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy in Van Nuys, said the Rev. Miguel Garcia, his fellow co-pastor. The missing included Monzon's wife and three children, who ranged from six months to 17 years old.

The coroner identified two of the bodies found near the camp as Wendy Monzon, 17, and Raquel Monzon, 9, both of Fontana. "I actually don't know of the relationship there as to whether or not they are the caretaker's family but they are of the same family," Shaw said.

He identified two other bodies recovered from the church camp as those of 11-year-old Jose Pablo Navarro and Ramon Meza, 29, both of San Bernardino. A 12- to 14-year-old boy had not been identified Saturday afternoon.

Many of those visiting Monzon were Guatemalan immigrants who belonged to a San Bernardino church, Iglesia de Dios de la Profecia, and nearly all the missing children were Sunday school students, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

In nearby Devore, about five miles to the west, another mudslide struck a KOA campground, killing manager Janice Arlene Stout-Bradley, 60, and Carol Eugene Nuss, 57, a father of three from Wellington, Kan.

Stout-Bradley had organized a Thanksgiving dinner to celebrate the return of the trailer park residents after the fall wildfires. She had managed the facility for 10 years and was constantly creating odd jobs and forgoing rent there for people in need, said Rebecca Richardson, 15.

Richardson said her family lost their home about six months ago and Stout-Bradley let them park their camper at the site and gave her father a job at her adjoining horse ranch.

"She didn't want to see us anywhere else. Anyone she could help, she would," Richardson said.

Nuss, an insurance adjuster, had arrived about a month ago to handle wildfire claims. He was helping another camper when the mudslide struck, relatives said. His wife, Bev, survived the mudslide inside the couple's recreational vehicle.

Brian Delaney, 19, remembers the mud crashing into the KOA recreation center and trapping him up to his neck before rescuers dug him out.

"I thought I was going to die," he said.
  • Lloyd Vries

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.