LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some residents stranded in Southern California mountain communities by a massive snowfall could be stuck for another week, an official said Friday.
A blast of arctic air in late February produced a rare snowstorm east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountains, where thousands of people live in high-elevation forest communities or visit for recreation year-round.
The extraordinary snowfall buried homes and businesses, crushing the capacity of snow removal equipment geared toward ordinary storms.
Until last weekend, all highways leading into the mountains were closed and have since been opened intermittently to residents and convoys of trucks loaded with food or other supplies.
San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus’ estimate was an improvement on the outlook for stranded residents, which previously ranged up to two weeks.
“We said we could push it up to two weeks, but because of the efforts of the state and the equipment that’s coming behind us, we’re hoping to get it down to one week,” he told a news conference.
The sheriff and other officials said progress has been made, but described severe conditions that, for example, have forced firefighters to rush to emergency scenes such as snowcat fires.
“The enormity of this event is hard to fathom,” said state Rep. Tom Lackey. “You know, we think, ‘We’re in Southern California,’ but yet we’ve had a flood that’s really, really created serious stress and frustration and hardship, especially for the victims and those who are actually trapped in their own homes.”
San Bernardino County is one of 13 counties where California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency due to the effects of severe weather, including massive snowfalls that have collapsed roofs from the weight.
In Mono City, a small community on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite National Park, some residents have been without power for a week, the Mono County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook Friday. In the northern part of the state, mountain communities that struggle with the conditions have smaller populations and are more accustomed to significant snowfall.
Residents and vacationers trapped in the San Bernardino mountain range have taken to social media to show their plight and wonder when the plows are coming.
Shelah Riggs said the street she lives on in Crestline hasn’t seen a snowplow in eight days, leaving people in about 80 homes along the street with nowhere to go. Typically, a plow comes every day or two when it snows, he said.
“We’re covered by five or six feet (1.5 or 1.8 meters). nobody can get off their streets,” he said in a telephone interview.
Riggs, who lives with her 14-year-old daughter, said everyone is working to keep snow and ice off their decks to prevent collapse and make sure the vents in their homes are kept clear.
He said the county’s response was “horrendous” and that “people are really angry.”
Devine Horvath, also of Crestline, said it took her and her son 30 minutes to walk down the street to check on a neighbor — a trip that usually only takes a few minutes.
Horvath said she was lucky she made it to the local grocery store before its roof collapsed several days earlier, but she hadn’t been able to get out of her driveway since.
“I’m getting more and more upset by the day,” he said.
The sheriff tried to give reassurance that help is coming even if people haven’t seen any plows.
“We’ll dig you up and we’re coming,” said Dickus. “We are making tremendous progress. I saw it from the air yesterday. The streets are being cleaned.”
Officials said crews were dealing with snow depths so vast that removal required front-end loaders and dump trucks instead of regular plows.
California Department of Transportation official Jim Rogers said crews working 24-hour shifts have removed more than 2.6 million cubic yards (1.9 million cubic meters) of snow from the state’s highways.
Officials described a number of difficulties in reopening smaller roads, including buried vehicles and downed power lines hampering progress. Residents were urged to mark the locations of the cars in some way.
A reopened road can only be the width of a single vehicle with walls of ice on each side.
“We’re going door to door and literally using shovels to shovel the streets to make sure people have access to their cars,” said County Fire Chief Dan Munsey. “As the roads are plowed, you still have 10 feet of snow you need to get through.”
More snowcats were brought in, along with a California National Guard crew that normally works with the California Wildfire & Forest Resilience Task Force on wildfires. The crew will help shovel the snow.
While heavier snow was forecast to reach Northern California early Saturday, Southern California was expected to remain storm-free except for possible light rain.
“The weather looks great for the next seven days and that’s great news,” Munsey said.
About 80,000 people live in the San Bernardino Mountains either part-time or full-time. The county has not estimated how many people are currently in the mountains because many residences are vacation homes or rentals.
Associated Press reporter Kathleen Ronayne contributed from Sacramento, California.