2 young children die after being swept away by fast-flowing California creek

MOUNTAIN HOME VILLAGE, Calif. (AP) — Two young siblings died after being swept away by a rapidly flowing creek in Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains, authorities said.

The tragedy occurred Tuesday when a mother took her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son to spend the afternoon at Thurman Flat picnic area on Highway 38 near Mill Creek, the San Bernardino Count Sheriff's Department said in a news release.

They were playing along the creek when at one point the mother was attending to her son and her daughter was taken downstream, the department said.

“The mother searched for her but could not locate her," the department said. "When she returned, her son was missing and assumed to be down river as well.”

The mother frantically searched for both children and then hiked up to the picnic area and asked another family to help search, an effort that was unsuccessful.

Rescue crews from multiple agencies arrived at the scene about 70 miles (113 kilometers) east of Los Angeles around 4 p.m. and eventually found both children. The siblings were taken to local hospitals and pronounced dead after extensive efforts to save their lives, the department said.

The names of the children and their mother were not immediately released.

Mill Creek is a major tributary of the Santa Ana River. Its waters plunge down a rocky bed from the towering peaks of the San Bernardino range, where ski resorts reported as much as 199 inches (505 centimeters) of snowfall this past season.

California authorities regularly warn that the state's rivers and streams can become very dangerous when spring snowmelt fills them with fast-flowing, very cold water.

Cold shock can quickly stun the strongest of swimmers and boulders, branches and other debris can lurk invisibly beneath the surface, according to the California Office of Emergency Services.

“Swift water can be deadly, especially as the weather warms up following heavy winter snowfall in the mountains and higher-than-average flows in rivers and streams,” said Amy Palmer, spokesperson for the California Office of Emergency Services, said in an email. “It’s critical Californians understand and appreciate the dangers it can pose and take precautions wherever possible.”

Local public safety agencies also make pleas for people to be careful near waters.

In the southern Sierra Nevada, the Kern County Sheriff's Office is blunt, updating a sign on the road to the notorious Kern River with the death toll since 1968. Last May, the sign was updated from 317 to 325, reflecting eight deaths between 2022 and 2023.