After deadly snow, mountain communities start to dig out and brace for new storm
After weeks of historic snowfalls that buried parts of the San Bernardino Mountains in up to 100 inches of snow, residents have only now started to clear roads, reopen businesses, run errands and get in touch with snowbound neighbors.
But the respite may be short-lived as a new storm is forecast to strike the region Friday morning and linger into the weekend. The latest storm is expected bring more rain than snow to the region, giving locals a bit of optimism that a recovery from the unprecedented weather is within reach.
“I think people feel that there’s a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, and people aren’t quite as concerned with the rain as maybe we should be,” said Alexander Vallejos, who operates the Twin Peaks Farmers Market in Twin Peaks. “But I think a lot of us are kind of wanting to get back to a sense of normalcy.”
Caltrans snowplows have cleared the majority of highways around the mountain communities, but most county roads are still either limited to one lane or blocked with snow.
San Bernardino County on Wednesday launched a new service to deliver medication refills to homes, responding to concerns that prescriptions for elderly residents who were snowed in were running out. Requests for those deliveries can be made by calling the county’s snow response call center at (909) 387-3911.
In the mountain community of Crestline, Amber Dickey, 37, was busy earlier this week delivering groceries and running errands for her neighbors who still struggled to get out of their homes because of all the snow.
“It looks like we might not lose the bowling alley. It’s nice to not have to lose another business,” Dickey said pointing to a group of workers using a snow blower to clear the roof of a nearby building.
Several other buildings on the street caved in, including Goodwin & Son’s Market, the community’s only supermarket.
“I was born and raised in Crestline. I’ve never seen Goodwin closed,” she said. “It’s sad because they’ve done such a good job as our community grocery store. It’s sad to watch your community have to try to recover from something like this.”
But recovery efforts may be delayed by a new storm rolling in from Northern California, raising the risk of flooding in the mountain and foothill communities.
The incoming storm could dump up to 1.5 inches of rain on communities in Lake Arrowhead, Running Springs and Crestline. Mt. Baldy and Mt. San Gorgonio could receive up to 3 inches of rainfall, according to the National Weather Service in San Diego.
“The good thing is rain is better than snow at this point, and they’re saying the snow level isn’t going to be [below] 9,000 feet,” said Rich Eagan, a public information officer for San Bernardino County’s incident management team, which is responding to the recent storms. He pointed out that all the mountain communities are at elevations well below snow levels, most around 4,000 to 5,000 feet.
“We’re hoping that what happens from the rain, it’s going to melt some of the snow,” Eagen said, adding that flooding is not a major concern.
“I don’t really think the rains are going to create major issues for us. I think it’s going to help us, to be honest,” Eagen said.
He said the county has now cleared 98% of county roads with at least a single lane open.
Others are not so optimistic. Ivan Arnold, director of Operation Mountain Strong, a grassroots relief effort helping conduct search and rescues on the mountains, worries that the combination of heaps of snow and rain is going to be a recipe for disaster.
“There’s a tremendous amount of snow and the rain is really gonna affect it. It’s gonna turn it into slush and we’re gonna have significant flooding,” Arnold said.
He fears that the rains could flood low-lying areas and exacerbate roofs already damaged from the snowstorms.
As the storm approaches, mountain residents continue to hustle to clear as much snow from their roads and properties while the skies are clear.
Travis Lett has been digging out snow from his 4-foot-deep swimming pool in Crestline for the last four days.
He fears there could be more power outages because of the rain.
“I’m almost finished so I can get down the hill for supplies and a generator,” Lett said Thursday. “I don’t have much time before we are trapped in the rainstorm.”
Lett is confident his home will survive the latest storm because it is on a hill, but he’s worried about his neighbors at lower elevations.
“It’s going to flood the bottom of the town,” he said. “The water can’t escape [because] all reservoir openings are clogged with snow.”
For the last two weeks, Rudy Zamora, 62, had been struggling to clear mounds of snow that stood 5 to 8 feet high around his Crestline home. He was able to get free groceries from Goodwin and Son’s Market last week, after the roof caved in and the market handed out what it could salvage.
But Zamora has not been able to get his truck out of the driveway. His street was plowed Monday and he can finally see the road.
“I figured if I shoveled snow a little each day, or a lot each day, I’d be able to keep up with it,” Zamora said, slightly out of breath.
During a winter storm last year, Vallejos and his fiancee, Holly Walker, lost power at their home in Skyforest, a community southeast of Lake Arrowhead. They roughed it for several days.
When the latest storms rolled through they felt prepared, but they did not expect to be stranded for 12 days.
“We weren’t caught off guard so much as it kind of was like with COVID. The feeling was it just kept going on,” Vallejos said.
Though they have cleared channels around their home for the incoming rain, there’s a feeling that it’s just another issue on top of everything else.
“Obviously there’s a little bit of concern,” Vallejos said. “I feel like a lot of people right now are just trying to focus on the people who need help in the community. There are still people who are snowed in and can’t get supplies.”
The series of storms also snowed in Wildhaven Ranch, a nonprofit wildlife sanctuary in Cedar Glen.
But neighbors have been helping Diane Dragotto Williams, the sanctuary’s founder, dig pathways to the animal enclosures and ensure that the structures don’t cave in. There is no money coming into the shelter because the business is closed, and she relies on donations and the generosity of her neighbors.
Her neighbors have accompanied her while she feeds the animals. But some of the larger carnivores require special handlers to feed, Williams said, and that has been difficult to do when the roads are blocked and the handlers can’t make it to the sanctuary.
“Generally, on a daily basis, yes they need to be fed, but not for every single species,” Williams said.
Earlier in the week, a busload of inmates from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation under the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection arrived in Cedar Glen and helped residents dig out their driveways. The inmates also helped clear out some of the enclosures at the sanctuary, Williams said.
She’s optimistic that the incoming rainstorm will be moderate.
“The snow is very slowly melting. I can see maybe a foot has gone down since it has been warm in the last few days,” she said. “So that’s encouraging.”
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