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Rare snowfall in Southern California strands residents as another winter storm takes aim

Mario Tama/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Rare snowfall in parts of Southern California has left scores of people stranded this week as winter storms sweep across the United States.


About 600 elementary and middle school students from Orange County’s Irvine Unified School District were unable to return home last Friday from class trips to outdoor education camps in the San Bernardino Mountains due to closed and impassible roads from heavy snowfall, according to Los Angeles ABC station KABC-TV. The students and their chaperones were forced to stay there over the weekend.

On Monday, Irvine Unified School District Superintendent Terry Walker said she was informed by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the California Department of Transportation that, “at this time, the roads are safe for travel by our buses.”

“We have mobilized resources and are implementing our plan to bring students down the mountain safely and as soon as possible,” Walker wrote in an email to parents. “The buses will be escorted up and down the mountain by the CHP. We will need to use available snow certified buses and drivers to transport children down the mountain, where they will be transferred to additional school buses for the ride home. This process is going to take time and I ask for your patience as we manage working with multiple agencies, first responders, camp and school staff and transportation officials. If anything should change regarding road, weather or other unforeseen circumstances, we will immediately communicate with you.”

“To support an efficient exit from camp, students will be taking their backpacks with essentials only today. Camp staff will return luggage to our school at the earliest possible time,” she added. “Our first priority is getting everyone out of camp while road and weather conditions permit safe travel.”

Meanwhile, San Bernardino County declared a local emergency on Monday “after residents of mountain communities found themselves trapped at home or unable to reach home due to several feet of snow that fell over the weekend, with more to follow during the next several days,” according to a press release. The declaration seeks state and federal assistance to clear snow from mountain highways and neighborhood streets and to support any other necessary work and services.

“Today’s emergency declaration is an important step which will elevate the state’s response to this extreme weather event,” Dawn Rowe, chair of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “Our team of state and local partners will continue working round-the-clock on a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to bring relief and resources to our residents, while also prioritizing the safety of all.”

Although “crews have been working tirelessly” to clear “key routes for first responders,” with progress “being made in some residential areas,” San Bernardino County said in Monday’s press release that “there is no estimate for when mountain highways will open to public traffic or when residential areas will be safe for local travel.”

So far, crews have successfully plowed most of San Bernardino County’s primary roads across the mountain, with a focus on “creating arterial access from the state highways,” according to the press release. Secondary roads will be plowed “once primary roads are passable,” the county said. When the storms stop, crews “will begin to work on the widening and clearing of roads,” according to the press release.

“All agencies are asking mountain residents and non-residents not currently on the mountain to avoid the area and allow road crews, first responders, and supply vehicles priority access to the limited number of roads that have been cleared,” San Bernardino County noted in Monday’s press release. “The Sheriff’s Department and other first responders have had to divert resources to assist with several search and rescue calls for individuals engaged in non-essential travel across the mountain region. This is why agencies urge the public to be patient and respect the travel restrictions and road closures.”

Both San Bernardino County and the American Red Cross have established an emergency shelter and resource center for mountain residents who cannot get home at Redlands East Valley High School.

Last week, a massive winter storm left California buried under 84 inches of snow in some places and flooded with more than 11 inches of rain in others. Tens of thousands of customers across the Golden State were still without power on Monday, according to data collected by the website PowerOutage.us.

Another storm is forecast to hit the West Coast this week, bringing even more snow to the mountains and additional rain to the shores. The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern Californian, where 5 to 8 feet of local snowfall could accumulate.

The new system is expected to move into Southern California on Tuesday afternoon or evening, potentially dumping heavy rain on the coastal hills where mudslides have already occurred. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the Southern California mountains, where local snowfall of 2 to 3 feet could accumulate to over 5,000 feet.

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