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Death Toll in Calif. Mudslides Hits 14

December 29, 2003

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) _ Authorities warned mountain community residents to brace for more rain and possible flooding as rescue workers continued to search for the victims of a mudslide that buried a church camp on Christmas

The total number of deaths from the Christmas disaster at the Greek Orthodox camp mounted to 12 on Sunday as five more bodies were recovered. Two other people died in another mudslide Thursday at a campground about five miles away.

``It’s been several days and our hopes are not high of finding people alive,″ said Chip Patterson, spokesman for the San Bernardino County sheriff’s department. ``We may never find everyone.″

A baby boy and a teenage boy were still unaccounted for.

Three to four more inches of rain were expected by Tuesday night. A 30-mile swath of mountainside scorched by this fall’s wildfires is especially vulnerable to flash flooding, said San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Tracey Martinez.

Fire stations were handing out sandbags but supplies were quickly diminishing. ``We need to make sure folks realize that. Now is the time to prepare,″ Martinez said.

Two children washed away from the St. Sophia Camp were found tangled in debris more than four miles below, in a cement catch basin in downtown San Bernardino, said Patterson.

Two women and a man, all in their 40s, were found closer to the camp in the San Bernardino Mountains. It took a bulldozer and other heavy equipment to find those bodies in deep mud.

Identities of the victims found Sunday were not immediately known. It was believed they all came to the camp to celebrate Christmas with the camp’s caretaker, Jorge Monzon.

Monzon did not have permission for the gathering and knew he was not allowed to throw parties at the retreat, said Father John Bakas, dean of St. Sophia Cathedral of Los Angeles.

``There was never any authority to bring in the numbers who were there,″ Bakas told the Los Angeles Times for Monday’s newspaper.

Patterson said crews would resume the search Monday morning.

Authorities said the children found Sunday were a 7- to 9-year-old girl and a 12- to 14-year-old boy.

About 200 people attended a service honoring the victims Sunday at the Church of God Prophecy in San Bernardino, which many of those killed or missing had attended. Many of the victims also were immigrants from Guatemala, the Rev. Emilio Ruedas said.

Many cried quietly at the evangelical church, where worshippers swayed, waved their hands, sang in Spanish and shouted ``Amen″ and ``Hallelujah.″ One woman screamed and sobbed before collapsing in her chair during one song, and was escorted out several minutes later, visibly shaken.

Two bodies recovered Saturday near the camp chapel were identified Sunday as belonging to a girl of about 7 to 10 years old and a man in his 30s.

Other victims have been identified as 11-year-old Jose Pablo Navarro of San Bernardino and his 13-year-old cousin, Ivan Navarro of Fontana, and Ramon Meza, 30, of San Bernardino.

The bodies of Monzon, 41, and his wife, Clara, 40, were found Sunday, according to the San Bernardino County coroner’s office. Monzon’s daughters, Wendy, 17, and Raquel, 9, had been reported dead earlier. His baby son is listed as missing.

The other body recovered Sunday was identified as Rosa Najera-Juarez, 40, of San Bernardino.

On Sunday, Cesar Linares, 40, said his sister-in-law, Najera-Juarez, and her 6-year-old daughter, Katherine, had been at the campsite. It was not immediately known if the body of the girl found Sunday was his niece.

``My wife is sick, very sick and nervous because she loved her sister very much,″ Linares said. ``We feel bad and confused.″

Another mudslide Thursday killed two people at a KOA campground about five miles away in Devore. They were identified as Janice Arlene Stout-Bradley, 60, of San Bernardino, and Carol Eugene Nuss, 57.

Stout-Bradley was the campground manager. Nuss was an insurance adjuster who arrived in California from Kansas about a month ago to handle wildfire claims.

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