Decade after Christmas mudslide, memories remain

Posted: 12/25/13 at 9:40 pm EST

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) -- A decade after a Christmas Day mudslide swept through a Southern California church mountain retreat, worshippers have continued their mission at a new spot.

Fourteen people -- including nine children -- were killed on Dec. 25, 2003, when a flood of water, boulders and debris tore through a campground in the foothills of San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Members of the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church and Foundation held summer and winter camps at the 45-acre site at Waterman Canyon for more than four decades.

Now, the group holds summer camp in nearby Crestline and has abandoned winter sessions, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported in Wednesday's editions (http://bit.ly/JdsS3G ).

Before the deadly mudslide, a swath of the hillside had been scarred by fall wildfires, leaving the area prone to erosion and flash flooding. A Pacific storm that Christmas dropped nearly 4 inches of rain on the region.

"By the time it got to the camp, it was a moving wall of material that was going quite rapidly and really blasted through the camp," said John Peterson, an attorney who represented the camp in litigation.

Since then, several lawsuits were filed against the camp, San Bernardino County and the California Department of Transportation. Survivors and victims' families sued the church after the tragedy, and the church settled the lawsuit in 2008 for $13 million.

"It was pretty traumatic," Peter Koulous said of the Christmas flood.

Koulous attended the camp when he was young, as did his five children. His grandchildren will continue the tradition at the camp's new location.

The old campground was demolished five years ago after vandals started a fire in a building. The church still owns the property but doesn't have the money to rebuild.

"We had a lot of dreams of trying to rebuild it," Koulous said. "I don't think the church is inclined to because we couldn't get insurance to rebuild."

Have a story idea or news tip for 7NEWS?

Email: newstips@cw56.com, or call us at 1-800-280-TIPS.