LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some residents trapped by heavy snowfall in Southern California mountain communities could be stuck for another week, an official said Friday.
A blast of arctic air in late February produced a rare blizzard In the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, thousands of people live in high-altitude forest communities or visit year-round for recreation.
Unusual snowfall buried homes and businessesHeading into normal storms maximizes the efficiency of snow plowing equipment.
By the end of last week, all highways leading to the mountains were closed and only intermittently opened to residents and convoys of trucks carrying food or other supplies.
San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Diggs’ assessment was an improvement on the outlook for stranded residents, up from two weeks earlier.
“We have said that we can push it out for two weeks, but because of the government’s efforts and the equipment that is behind us, we hope to drop it by a week,” he told a press conference.
The sheriff and other officials said progress had been made, but they described harsh conditions that forced firefighters to reach emergency scenes, for example, on fires in snowfields.
“It’s hard to fathom the enormity of this event,” said state Assemblyman Tom Lackey. “You know we think, ‘We’re in Southern California,’ but we’ve actually been in a flood that’s really created tremendous anxiety, frustration and hardship, especially for the victims and those who are actually stuck in their own homes.
San Bernardino County is one of 13 counties where California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared states of emergency due to the effects of severe weather, including massive snowstorms that caused roofs to collapse due to the weight.
In Mono City, a small community on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite National Park, some residents have been left without power for a week by snow, the Mono County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook Friday. In the northern part of the state, mountain communities struggling with the conditions have smaller populations and are more accustomed to significant snowfall.
Residents and vacationers stranded in the San Bernardino mountain range have taken to social media to vent their plight and wonder when the plows will arrive.
Shelah Riggs said the street she lives on in Crestline hasn’t seen snow in eight days, leaving people in about 80 homes along the road 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 out of their driveways,” he said in a phone interview.
Riggs, who lives with her 14-year-old daughter, said everyone is working to keep snow and ice off their floors to prevent collapse and make sure gas vents in their homes are clear.
He said the district’s response was “terrible” and “people are very angry.”
Dwayne Horvath, of Crestline, said it takes him and his son 30 minutes to walk down the street to see a neighbor — something that normally takes a few minutes.
Horvath said she was lucky to get to a local grocery store before its roof collapsed several days ago, but hasn’t been able to leave her street since.
“I’m getting more upset every day,” he said.
The sheriff tried to reassure people that help would come even if they didn’t see any plows.
“We’re going to dig you up, we’re coming,” Dikus said. “We are making tremendous progress. I saw this on air yesterday. The roads are being cleaned,” he said.
Officials said crews were dealing with snow so deep that removal required front-end loaders and dump trucks rather than conventional plows.
California Department of Transportation official Jim Rogers said crews working 24-hour shifts cleared 2.6 million cubic yards (1.9 million cubic meters) of snow from state highways.
Officials described difficulties in reopening minor roads, including buried vehicles and downed power lines. Residents were urged to somehow mark the cars’ locations.
The reopened road is only one vehicle width with snow walls on both sides.
“We’re going door to door, we’re using shovels to clear driveways to make sure people can access their cars,” said County Fire Chief Dan Muncy. “Because the roads are plowed, you still have 10-feet (3-meters) of snow that you have to replace.”
More snowcats were brought in with California National Guard crews working on wildfires, usually in conjunction with the California Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force. Crews will help clear the snow.
Southern California is expected to be storm-free except for light rain, with more snow forecast for Northern California early Saturday morning.
“The weather is looking good for the next seven days, so that’s great news,” Munsey said.
About 80,000 people live part or full time in the San Bernardino Mountains. The county does not estimate how many people currently live on the hills because many of the residences are vacation homes or rentals.
Associated Press reporter Kathleen Ronayne contributed from Sacramento, California.