Trapped Californians rescued from snow, helped by neighbors

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Search crews have rescued Californians stranded for days in multiple feet of snow after back-to-back storms plastered the state’s mountain communities and trapped many in their homes.

In Inyo County on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, volunteer rescuers tried for days to locate a man who was last heard from Feb. 24 before he drove out from the community of Big Pine. The California Highway Patrol identified a cellphone ping linked to the man Thursday and sent a helicopter crew that spotted a partly snow-covered vehicle with the man waving inside, sheriff’s authorities said in a statement.

In the San Bernardino Mountains, sheriff’s authorities on Friday rescued a pair of 17-year-olds who had set out to hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. They were prepared for a long hike with backpacks, sleeping bags and food but not for the massive snowstorm that followed, and found themselves in four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) of snow drifts and limited visibility that made it tough to stay on the trail, the county sheriff’s department said in a statement.

The teens stopped communicating through an app with one of their fathers, and he called sheriff’s authorities, who sent a helicopter to the boys’ last known location. From above, authorities spotted foot tracks and followed them to find the teens, who were slightly hypothermic and had huddled together for three nights to stay warm, said Sgt. John Scalise of the San Bernardino County sheriff’s department.

“They knew there was weather. But I don’t think they expected the amount,” Scalise said. “I have been doing search and rescue for, oh gosh, the last 18 years in my career. And I can tell you these kids should have been dead.”

The dramatic rescues come as California is struggling to dig out residents in mountain communities from as much as 10 feet (3 meters) of snow after back-to-back storms battered the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared states of emergency in 13 counties including San Bernardino County, where the massive snowfall has closed roads, caused power outages, collapsed roofs and trapped residents in their homes for more than a week.

Some residents could be shut in for another week because of the challenges in clearing out so much snow. The Red Cross has set up a shelter at a local high school, and food distribution centers have been set up in several communities.

Katy Curtis, who lives in the San Bernardino mountain community of Crestline, said she hiked with snow shoes for five miles (eight kilometers) to get a can of gasoline to a family trapped in their house to fuel a generator.

“I’m healthy so I just thought, well, I can walk, and I did. But it was probably the longest day of my life,” said Curtis, adding the family had someone with medical needs. She said cars are completely buried in snow, and it is piled up to the roof of her home.

“We’re just all so exhausted in every way,” she said.

In Northern California, another strong storm began dumping more snow in mountain communities this weekend. Authorities closed roads. A winter storm warning was in effect through early Monday, according to National Weather Service in Sacramento.

There is a slight chance of snow showers in the San Bernardino County mountains on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in San Diego.


Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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