“I’m still buried.” Some SoCal mountain residents are still trapped in snow as a new storm hits

Firefighters Mike Age and Aaron Thomas stopped at the listed address for priority prescription delivery on Friday, but were initially unable to locate the Lake Arrowhead home.

A 15-foot snow berm created from multiple snowplow runs blocked any view – or access – to the driveway of the house, forcing a perpendicular route to be explored to find the house along a long driveway. From this vantage point, firefighters found a more manageable path: over a 5-foot berm, under trees and through a side yard of snowdrifts.

As Thomas sank almost waist-deep in snow while trying to balance insulin delivery, Age called the house ‘one of the toughest’ they had attempted to reach last week delivering lifesaving medicine to mountain communities in San Bernardino County. Many residents requesting deliveries have been snowbound for more than two weeks, with some unable to safely navigate the dangerous conditions or without the resources to do so after back-to-back storms dumped historic amounts of snow on the area.

“Some people have a death [car] battery, some people have a 14 foot berm. … There are a lot of challenges,” said Leigh Overton, supervisor of emergency medical services to the San Bernardino County Fire Department, which helped implement the new prescription delivery program – a first for the county, and possibly the state. “There are a lot of older people who need us. … We get to them just in time.

Although the snow stopped weeks ago, life in the San Bernardino Mountains is far from back to normal. More than a dozen residents were found dead following the series of storms that blocked roads and left locals stuck, some unable to dig behind several feet of snow. Although all county roads have been cleared of snow since Monday – although many remain single lane – and mountain roads have reopened to the public, many local residents are angry and frustrated by the slow recovery. .

The drug delivery program is an attempt to offer assistance to snowbound residents until more of the snow can be cleared away.

Fire line doctor Aaron Thomas waits to pick up prescription drugs from a pharmacy

On Friday, firefighter Aaron Thomas waits to pick up prescription medicine for snowbound residents at a pharmacy in Blue Jay.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

When Lexi Searles opened the door to the two firefighters on Friday morning, she was clearly surprised that someone had reached their door, given the barricade.

“How did you get here?” Searles, 34, said with a laugh of disbelief as he thanked firefighters for his 73-year-old mother-in-law’s insulin. “She really needed this.

“I don’t think we realized we were going to be stuck like this,” she said. “We knew the storm was going to be quite severe, but we didn’t know it would be this heavy.”

“We still have residents who have varying needs, prescription drugs, food. Some are still assessing property damage,” said Eric Sherwin, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department. “There are still a number of residents whose properties are snowbound.”

He said these residents were “sheltering in place” – not by choice, but because of many driveways and cars still buried and access to resources a challenge. However, he said, his agency has seen a decrease in “life safety” concerns in recent days as the snow slowly melts and more is cleared.

But concern over the mountain remains, especially after the roads reopened to the public this weekend, prompting hundreds of angry comments on the California Department of Transportation’s Facebook announcement. People who identified as mountain dwellers called it a “terrible idea”, a “dangerous situation” and “stupid”, wondering why visitors can enter when schools are still closed and many many people are still stuck.

Two firefighters stand outside the door of a stone house where a young woman stands in the doorway looking at a piece of paper.

Aaron Thomas, center, and Mike Age deliver medicine to Lexi Searles at her snowy Lake Arrowhead home on Friday.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

“I’m still buried,” wrote one woman, who said she lives in Crestline’s Valley of Enchantment. “I haven’t been out of my house for 21 days, like everyone else!!”

“People are still trapped in their homes, structures are still collapsing, there is no parking, we are down to one grocery store,” someone else wrote. “Now is not the time to come and play.”

San Bernardino County officials say they are prioritizing safety, responding to calls, clearing more roads and continuing needed services, such as delivering prescriptions. Although prescription requests have declined in recent days, Sherwin said around 30 requests still need to be filled after around 60 deliveries were made last week.

“As long as we have the need, we will continue to support residents,” Sherwin said.

Two people stand outside and near a table laden with canned food while snow is visible on the ground and houses behind them.

Volunteers Ward Schinke, left, and Joe Maharrey help stock a pantry at a Valley of Enchantment fire station as residents of the San Bernardino Mountain area continue to deal with the aftermath of recent snowfall.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

But many residents continue to complain about the county’s lack of preparedness and response to storms, turning to neighbors, community groups and volunteers for help.

Twin Peaks resident Elsa Robles had been stuck in her home with her two children and pets since last week’s storms.

She said they were hanging in there, until she noticed her roof was starting to crack and crumble under the weight of the snow. Robles contacted the Southern California Off-Road and Recovery volunteer group, and he sent several people to shovel about 5 to 6 feet of snow from his roof.

“If they hadn’t come, I would currently be in a shelter with my children and my animals,” she said.

Robles said she had to crawl out of her house, hike in the snow and hitchhike to get groceries and dog food.

“It’s been about two weeks and we still need help,” she said. “We got help from the church and others – but not from the state or the county.”

She said their small, tight-knit community had been watching out for each other – a neighbor helped her with groceries by rushing to the same berm the firefighters navigated – but it was stressful.

San Diego resident Adam Perruzzi spent the last week volunteering after seeing photos online of people trapped in their homes and wanted to find a way to help.

View from outside the front door - a firefighter stands just inside, leaning towards a small dog while a woman watches.

Mike Age takes in Emma Cimino’s puppy after delivering prescription drugs to Lake Arrowhead.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

“It was just amazing to see the response from the community,” he said. “Neighbors were watching each other. Everyone was outside shoveling. You could see different groups who got there by different paths trying to do what they can.

Perruzzi recalled a particularly grim incident in which an elderly man tried to get out of his house to visit his friend in hospice and ended up stuck at home.

“He tried to get out, but he got tangled up on his staircase on the way down,” Perruzzi said. “He got stuck at 3pm and they didn’t find him until 10pm the next day. He was frostbitten to his thighs, but he was still alive.

Searles, whose mother-in-law had insulin delivered, said she decided over the weekend to pay around $1,500 to have their driveway dug – only to find a huge crack in the bumper. breeze from his vehicle because of the snow. But she focuses on the positive.

“I can go to the pharmacy now,” she said.

She is concerned, however, about ongoing weather issues, including more rain in the forecast, especially for her friends and neighbors: a friend had a tree fall on his house; others have much older houses without solid roofs.

“A lot of my friends’ houses have been destroyed or they just can’t get in,” Searles said.

Fire line medic Mike Age, right, greets Leroy Tolliver, a resident of the San Bernardino Mountains,

Firefighter Mike Age greets San Bernardino Mountain Area resident Leroy Tolliver as he and another doctor issue prescriptions to snowbound residents.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

The National Weather Service warned Monday that the ground in the San Bernardino County Mountains was already “fairly saturated” with snowmelt and rain, which means the next storm forecast to bring more rain Tuesday could lead to ” urban flooding and small streams”.

San Bernardino County firefighters focused Monday on the foothills to make sure creeks and drains were clear, Sherwin said.

“You start at the bottom and work your way up,” he said. “If you don’t clean the bottom, it backs up all the way through the system.”

He said sandbags are available at locations in the county’s western mountains, though he reminded residents they shouldn’t be placed on snow – only on bare ground – otherwise they won’t work not.

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