National Guard crews arrive in San Bernardino Mountains to help snowed-in communities

Thursday, March 2, 2023
Another day, another setback: Snow closes more roads amid cleanup
A man whose restaurant was nearly swallowed by snow waited patiently to be escorted up Highway 330 Freeway so he can get home to Running Springs and feed his storm-battered community - but that plan was quickly scrapped.

BIG BEAR, Calif. (KABC) -- California National Guard crews arrived Thursday in the San Bernardino Mountains, where several communities have been stranded by back-to-back winter storms that have dumped so much snow some residents can barely see out their windows.

Crews from the guard's highly specialized Joint Taskforce Rattlesnake departed Fresno early Thursday morning and arrived by midafternoon, according to Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

Additional snow crews from CalTrans and hand-crews and high clearance vehicles from Cal Fire arrived overnight Wednesday and "are actively working now in close coordination with local fire and rescue personnel from San Bernardino," Ferguson said.

Aerial assets from the National Guard have been placed on standby to assist with rescues, if necessary, beginning Thursday, the spokesman said.

Around-the-clock plowing has been underway in San Bernardino Mountains but it could take more than a week to reach some areas, said Dawn Rowe, chair of the county's board of supervisors. Residents are dealing with as much as 7 feet of snow, and sheriffs' personnel have conducted 17 rescue operations to help off-roaders and skiers. Emergency crews are trying to reach residents who need assistance.

Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency for L.A. County, San Bernardino County and 11 other counties impacted by the recent severe winter storms.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday proclaimed a state of emergency in San Bernardino and 12 other counties to support disaster relief by making state agencies and aid available and asking for federal help in clearing and repairing highways. The governor announced that the state was bringing in more snow plows and road crews to help clear roads and he authorized the California National Guard to mobilize for disaster response.

In Crestline, the entire roof of Goodwin and Sons Market collapsed Wednesday as safety inspectors were onsite checking up on reported damage. Officials raced to salvage food that residents sorely need from its shelves.

"Filled with anxiety," said Rita Nelson of Running Springs. "I don't know if my roof has collapsed. I see pictures of people's wall buckling and roofs buckling because of the weight of the snow. I can't be there to check."

A collapsed roof isn't the only danger, according to authorities.

Firefighters have responded to four house fires in the San Bernardino Mountains and a reported house explosion in Rimforest - both believed to be storm-related.

On Thursday morning, several residents gathered along Highway 330 to wait for CHP escorts up the mountain, eager to get back home with supplies such as food and gasoline.

"I have a truck full of gas, food, everything for everybody in my neighborhood thinking I might get up there because they are running out of everything," said Brad Rabensteine of Green Valley Lake.

But some expressed frustration with the lack of information they've been getting.

"Caltrans says talk to CHP, CHP says talk to Caltrans," said Green Valley resident Brad Rabensteine. "They won't even tell us if they're going to do more escorts, to wait here or not, or anything. You just can't get any information."

The county has set up a hotline for residents dealing with issues like frozen pipes, roof problems and food shortages: (909)387-3911. The San Bernardino Mountains are a major tourism and recreation destination but also home to a large year-round population in small cities and communities around lakes and scattered along winding roads. About 80,000 people live either part- or full-time in the communities affected, said David Wert, a county spokesman.

With the weekend approaching, residents are asking visitors to avoid coming up to the mountains for playtime while they dig more snow out.

"Us residents are so in fear of people wanting to come up for snow play time because we can't even get to what we need," said Nelson.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.