Authorities say 12 people have been found dead so far following historic storms that buried the San Bernardino Mountains under several feet of snow, covering homes and paralyzing travel.
“So far, we can only confirm (one), a traffic accident, as weather-related,” San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Mara Rodriguez said Wednesday. “The preliminary information in the other deaths does not indicate they are weather-related, but those investigations are ongoing.”
“There’s going to be a lot more,” said Megan Vazquez, a volunteer. “It’s been very cold here. It’s been below freezing, so if somebody didn’t have electricity or gas to heat their home, they may have frozen to death. I mean, it’s shocking.”
The storms blocked road access to mountain areas, leaving stranded locals to fend for themselves without power as supplies of food, medicine and fuel were dwindling.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the area on March 1.
With another storm on the way this week, authorities remain concerned over a potentially deadly mix of rain and snow conditions.
“There are concerns with rain and snow in the forecast,” said Justin Correll with the Colton Fire Department. “There’s a lot of snow on the ground and that could cause some ice damming and increase weight loads on roofs.”
Firefighters are struggling to clear tons of snow as roofs continue collapsing and natural gas fires are erupting.
A mix of fear and frustration remains for those who are trapped in their homes amid 10-foot snow drifts.
“This is the first day. we’ve been able to get out of our house,” said Sharon Moore, a Crestline resident. “We dug ourselves out.”
There are 500 emergency responders in the area including the National Guard, said the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
But those who live in the community say it’s still not enough.
“When their deck collapsed, it covered their exit out of their home and it fell on their cars,” said Rochelle Dafris, a Crestline volunteer, of a victim. “So one of the things she said is, ‘My house is cracking.’”
From Crestline and Big Bear to Lake Arrowhead and beyond, volunteers have been doing their part to help out affected residents the best they can.
In the parking lot of Goodwin’s Market in Crestline, volunteers are distributing essentials such as food, water, baby formula, diapers and more.
The grocery store’s roof collapsed under the weight of snow last week, devastating locals who relied on the market.
Emergency responders are canvassing the area, trying to locate anyone who might be injured, cold or hungry.
With 40 percent of the roads still unplowed as of Wednesday night, it could still be several more days before crews can reach every home in the area.
“We are mountain strong and we’ve always stuck together through thick and thin, but this is far beyond us,” said Dafris. “We need FEMA. We need help.”