Some people were rescued, but authorities don’t know if others may be missing.

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) – A mudslide swept over a Greek Orthodox youth camp Thursday, trapping up to 30 people as heavy rains triggered flooding in areas ravaged by deadly wildfires last month, authorities said.

Nine to 12 of those victims were rescued from the Saint Sophia Camp in Waterman Canyon, just north of San Bernardino, and needed medical attention. Authorities were not certain how many other people had been at Camp Sophia – if any.

There could be up to 18 people who remained trapped under mud and debris Thursday, said Sgt. Dave Caddel of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Two structures at the camp were destroyed, he said.

Details about the victims and the extent of their injuries were not immediately available.

Boulders, logs, trees and branches, propelled by 1 to 3 inches of rain, tumbled down the San Bernardino Mountains, making rescue efforts treacherous and threatening homes and forcing road closures in several areas. Television reports showed a surging stream of water in Waterman Canyon, which looked like a sea of gray mud.

The mudslide occurred exactly two months after the start of a wildfire that destroyed much of the canyon, consuming just over 91,000 acres, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and killing four people.

Wildfires make Southern California’s mountains much more prone to mudslides because they burn off vegetation that normally would help shore up steep terrain. The fires that hit the region in October and November were the most severe in state history, burning nearly 1 million acres.

Authorities evacuated residents and closed off the road leading to the Waterman Canyon.

Flood waters were getting worse late Thursday, forcing officials to pull back some emergency personnel, county fire officials said. Caddel said sheriff’s search-and-rescue teams would continue to look for possible victims through the night. “To put rescuers in there puts them in significant peril,” said San Bernardino County Fire Marshall Peter Brierty. “Everything in the canyon was burned to moon dust. It’s incredibly mushy, muddy, slippery with nothing to grab onto.”

Brierty said that some debris flows were between six and 12 feet high. “Even a foot or two feet of this will knock you down,” he said.

A bridge washed out in the canyon and several structures were threatened, said Clifford Ellis, a supervisor at the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Camp Sophia hosts religious retreats for children ages 7 to 17 during the summer months as well as other events year-round, according to its Web site. No one answered the phone at the camp on Thursday. Messages left with camp officials were not immediately returned.

Elsewhere in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, authorities ordered residents to evacuate as mudslides threatened homes.

In Lytle Creek Canyon, the rain caused several mudslides, including a 4-foot-high flow across a road that trapped a car. The driver was not hurt and the road was closed.

Emergency officials ordered an undetermined number of residents along the overflowing creek to evacuate.

Strong wind gusts also downed power lines and disrupted service to various areas of Los Angeles, authorities said. Hundreds of people were without power.

The storm began moving into wildfire-scarred Southern California Wednesday evening, bringing the first rainy Christmas Day in Los Angeles in 20 years. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for southwestern San Bernardino County, including areas around Lytle Creek.

In a 24-hour period beginning Wednesday afternoon, 3.57 inches of rain fell in Lytle Creek, said Stan Wasowski, a National Weather Service forecaster.

“It’ll probably get worse before it gets better.” he said.

Heavy rain also was reported in an unincorporated area north of Upland, where fire crews were placing sandbags to protect structures. Minor flooding also was reported on some roads in Crestline and in residential areas of Devore, a suburb of San Bernardino.

AP-ES-12-25-03 2323EST



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