SAN BERNARDINO – Four children were among seven people confirmed dead in a mudslide that struck a rugged canyon in southern California on Christmas Day, local authorities said on Saturday.
Seven people were still missing, some of them children, after Thursday’s slide in the fire-ravaged Old Waterman Canyon, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles. The San Bernardino County Coroner’s office identified four of the dead as 11-year-old Jose Pablo Navarro, Ramon Meza, 29, and Wendy Monzon, 17, and her 9-year-old sister Raquel, two family members of the caretaker at a camp in the canyon.
One victim, aged between 12 and 14, was not identified, and no details were immediately available on the two bodies found late on Saturday.
Two other bodies were recovered on Friday from a campground in nearby Devore, where a wall of mud destroyed 32 trailers. They were identified as Carol Eugene Nuss, 57, and Janice Stout-Bradley, 60, said Deputy Coroner Rocky Shaw.
Rescuers had led 52 others at the campground in Devore to safety on Thursday.
Officials said they would not continue searching the canyon on Saturday night, as they had done the two previous nights. Temperatures were again expected to be near freezing.
The seven Old Waterman Canyon bodies were believed to be family and friends of the caretaker at St. Sophia Camp, a retreat run by the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles.
The caretaker, identified by church officials as Jorge Monzon, was believed to be among the missing, who are presumed dead.
Father John Bakas, dean of St. Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles, said the camp had been closed for cleanup and repairs from wildfires that charred the area two months ago.
NOT ALL BODIES MAY BE FOUND
Rescue officials said it was increasingly unlikely that all the bodies would be recovered, as debris from the slides was being found as far as six miles south of the canyon.
The pastor of the church attended by most of the victims said the families understood it was unlikely anyone was still alive. “I think they’re already pretty much facing it,” said Emilio Ruedas, pastor of the Iglesia de Dios de la Profesia.
Ruedas said that despite the mudslides and the fires that raged here two months ago, his parishioners were keeping their faith. “I just told them this is part of life, part of nature,” he said, adding that his parish was made up mostly of working class immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala.
At least a half-dozen family members and friends of victims were awaiting news at a command post just outside the canyon.
About 200 volunteers, including sheriffs, fire officials and prison crews, combed a search area about four miles long and a half-mile wide. However, authorities said it was possible some of the missing might have been swept out of the canyon and into the river.
Thursday’s torrential rainstorm dumped more than three inches in the canyon area, triggering the collapse of hillsides denuded by wildfires inOctober.