A cross-country march for peace stalled for a second day in the rain-soaked Mojave Desert on Wednesday, as dozens of walkers dropped out and officials worried about a shortage of money and supplies.
About 12 marchers collapsed earlier in the week due to exposure from near-freezing rains and gusty winds that prompted dozens of other walkers to quit, spokesman John Hagelberg said.
The official count remained at 975 marchers, supplemented by a 100-member traveling staff, but officials admitted that the figure is lower because of the recent dropouts.
In Los Angeles, an accounting firm has been hired to investigate internal allegations of misuse of funds by leaders of People Reaching Out for Peace and to help organizers better manage the $4 million they have raised so far, Hagelberg said.
However, officials emphatically denied rumors that the march is in danger of fizzling out, saying both marchers and organizers are working on ways to raise badly needed money, reorganize the trek and prepare walkers for an even tougher section of the barren desert.
"It's been very uncomfortable for the past week, but I feel we're over the hump now," Hagelberg said. "I sense a very strong commitment from the marchers and Pro-Peace."
The walk has been besieged with logistical problems since it left Los Angeles March 1 for Washington in a call for nuclear disarmament. The group remained without liability insurance and needs to raise $300,000 in the next month to stay on the road.
A frigid, breezy spring rainstorm took them by surprise, dumping cold rain on them almost daily since Saturday. To recuperate, marchers spent Wednesday resting on a remote campsite on a gravel access road 10 miles south of Barstow.
On Thursday, they will leave their camp and walk to Barstow. On Friday, the group will walk another 15 miles to a desert campsite just outside of Yermo.
Seek to Cut Costs
Officials are discussing ways of reorganizing the march to cut costs. One option is to reduce the number of actual walkers to between 250 and 600 people. The others would be bused to homes in communities along the route, where they would be fed for free and would have more contact with the community to express their views.
Meanwhile, Pro Peace leaders were trying to raise the $60,000 to $100,000 needed for extra equipment for the long trek from Barstow to Las Vegas.
If the money is not raised within a few days, the marchers will rest for another few days until it is, officials said.
"The march will not move forward into the vast unpopulated stretches of California desert without proper equipment," Hagelberg said.