by Leslie Pearson

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May 20, 2014
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First memorial for 1983 mudslide victim survivors

When a mudslide let loose on Slide Mountain during Memorial Day weekend 31 years ago, a Gardnerville man was caught in its path.

On Saturday, friends and family are invited to remember Joseph Valenzuela at a memorial at Bowers Mansion.

Valenzuela was 34 years old and a pastor at Calvary Chapel in Gardnerville. He was survived by his wife and six children who ranged in age from 3 to 13 at the time, his sister, Gloria Burruel said.

Burruel said that the memorial will allow people to share what has happened in their lives since that day.

“It’s like watching a movie where you want to see what happens to the characters 20, 30 years later,” she said. “In the midst of this tragedy everyone stuck together as family and friends.”

The day could have turned out differently, she said, had God not intervened.

“We received a call from my mother asking me and my sister-in-law to bring the 10 grandkids to her house,” she said. “If she hadn’t called, our kids would have been there, too.”

Five of Valenzuela’s six children still live in the Valley, she said.

“Because the (Carson Valley) community stepped in to help them and my sister-in-law who was a widow with six kids, my nieces and nephews have had productive lives,” she said. “Doctors stepped up to give free exams, dentists provided free visits.”

The year Slide Mountain lived up to its name was a particularly heavy winter, followed by a hot Memorial Day weekend, reports from that day said.

The snowpack was 200 percent of average due to a powerful El Niño that year, reports said. The hot weekend sent all of that snow down the mountain where it collided with Upper and Lower Price lakes and then washed down the rest of the mountain to Highway 395.

Slide Mountain is located in the Carson Range southwest of Reno in Washoe County.

Burruel said that her brother was helping a friend build his house that day. The owner of the house, Tom Reed, and her husband John, who died in 2012, were also caught in the slide but survived.

Burruel said that survivors from that day described it as a science fiction movie where “trees moved around like toothpicks” and the water and mud looked like “a lawnmower mowing a lawn.”

Survivors, family and friends will get together to share how their lives have changed.

“I was told that Tom wrote a song after that day and that he’ll share it at the memorial,” Gloria said.

Burruel and her late husband visited Bowers Mansion several years ago where she said debris from the mudslide came through, but there has not been an anniversary memorial until now.

The memorial will take place at Bowers Mansion in the Washoe Pavilion 11 a.m. Saturday. For more information, contact Burruel at 775-720-3314.

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The Record Courier Updated May 22, 2014 06:09PM Published May 20, 2014 05:36PM Copyright 2014 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.