During the nearly two weeks he was stranded at home, Mark Steven Young called about 20 people or agencies to try to clear his street and remove a 6-foot mound of snow from his front door.
The 70-year-old Cedar Glen resident had been trapped after back-to-back storms dumped more than 100 inches of snow on the San Bernardino Mountains, surviving on food and powdered milk at home. But he was running out of medicine.
“I could try walking to town, but I have a bad leg so that’s not very good,” he said.
Help arrived over the weekend when volunteers from Sandals Church Lake Arrowhead showed up with food and medication for Young’s heart, blood pressure and pain. When they saw the snow on Young’s property, they left and returned with snowshoes so they could walk to his front door.
Those who came to Young’s aid exemplify how community members stepped up after devastating storms to help provide services they say officials failed to provide.
Throughout the snow-covered region, volunteers distributed bread, set up makeshift food banks, shoveled snow from neighbors’ roofs and driveways, and created an online notification system to find those most in need.
“We come together very well with things like this,” said Adam Atchison, pastor of Sandals Church in Riverside, who has helped deliver food and supplies to mountain residents. “When there is a tangible need, we tend to show up in force.”
Some isolated residents have been injured by collapsed roofs and gas explosions in their homes. Others have languished without electricity or heat, dependent on a dwindling supply of food and medicine, and increasingly angry with San Bernardino County officials who say they failed to prepare for the storms or address their needs afterward.
As of Thursday, at least 13 people have died since the blizzards hit. More people are believed to be dead in their homes, their neighbors say, as their access to services and emergency services was cut off.
Authorities say preliminary investigations suggest the deaths were not weather related, but locals insist the scope of the tragedy could have been reduced if roads had been cleared sooner.
Kristy Baltezore, a Crestline resident, discovered during a welfare check that her neighbor had died.
“There are people who call me crying because they are so tired and terrified that they won’t be able to save the lives of their neighbors because they have been digging for days and days to get to people,” he said. saying.
County officials have acknowledged that they were not fully prepared for the onslaught of storms that hit the mountains. The front plows used for routine road maintenance had been rendered ineffective by the immense amount of snow. Officials also said there was not enough time to request additional equipment from other jurisdictions.
“You have our commitment as an organization that there are many lessons that we are going to learn from this,” San Bernardino County Executive Director Leonard Hernandez said during a recent video briefing.
The only grocery store in Crestline, Goodwin’s Market, closed last week due to a partially collapsed roof, prompting Baltezore to spring into action.
The 44-year-old film and television production designer helped establish an emergency food bank and created a database for mountain residents, allowing people to submit their location and what they need. The volunteer effort, dubbed “Operation Strong Mountain,” then created a map for residents to check on nearby people who need help. As of Tuesday night, the group has received news of 346 households in emergency situations.
“I know there are people dead,” Baltezore said. “I see what each person needs on that map. I know who they are. I know how vulnerable they are. This is not OK. We still have half of our community that we haven’t reached out to.”
Executive Pastor Dan Zimbardi of Sandals Church Lake Arrowhead said they sent out an online form to about 1,000 parishioners last week, asking if anyone needed help and if anyone was able to help.
Since then, the form has reached thousands of people.
Sandals Church has 14 locations throughout California; Volunteers from other church campuses began bringing food and supplies to the San Bernardino church after the storms, Zimbardi said. They then created distribution points in Lake Arrowhead and Crestline and sent teams out to meet people on their streets or even in their homes.
“The mountain community is extraordinarily resilient, but more importantly, it is as united as the broader community,” he said. “There really are thousands of people helping their neighbors here.”
Megan Vasquez, who lives in a Crestline neighborhood called Valley of Enchantment, opened a food distribution center nearly a week ago because residents couldn’t access the county food bank.
“It’s so embarrassing,” he said. “If I look at our local news, (the authorities) say they are in control of things and they are taking care of everyone and food is being distributed. That is not true. I’ve been with my boots on the ground from the start, and we haven’t even been able to get to everyone. There are still families trapped in the snow that we are not aware of.”
Vasquez said her street was finally cleaned up Tuesday by a private citizen.
“This is a crazy, unheard-of 100-year storm and the lack of government officials or government agencies stepping in and helping has been mediocre, to say the least,” he said.
A few days after the storms, Robin Riolo also set up a food distribution point at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Cedarpines Park. He heard that people were hungry and decided to cook hot food there for people to pick up. Then more community members got involved, bringing pizzas and other supplies.
On Monday, members of Sandals Church dropped off boxes of food and supplies, including diapers, baby formula and medicine. They also received insulin from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“We just got together,” said Riolo, who has lived on the mountain for a decade. “We just have to do it. I went through all the food in my house, cooking for my neighbors. I took a lot of people out.”
Riolo said that after helping hundreds of people downtown, things began to slow down Tuesday.
“I’m kind of glad it’s slow because that means people are served,” she said. “They know they can call and one of us will deliver them. Now we’re going to find out where else on this mountain you need these things.”
Teo Solano walked through several feet of hard snow Tuesday, using a shovel to shovel snow off the roof of a Lake Arrowhead home.
Solano, his father, and his friend have been removing snowdrifts from roofs and clearing driveways for older neighbors. They are also clearing snow from gas meters to prevent explosions.
“It’s been tough,” the Lake Arrowhead resident said. “We don’t have any help from the government. But we have each other’s backs.”
Major highways, arteries of mountain communities, have been mostly cleared by Caltrans. But many of the smaller roads, which are maintained by San Bernardino County, are blocked by snow or reduced to one lane.
“Caltrans has been doing what it can, but there are still a lot of people stuck in their homes,” Solano said. “They don’t know where to put the snow.”
Liberty Guerrero and her husband, Zachary Pardee, both 33-year-old Crestline residents, rented two snowplows a couple of days after the storms to try to get people out. They posted on social media and asked residents to call them if they needed help.
Guerrero said the calls they received were heartbreaking.
“There was a 70-year-old man, and you could hear his voice cracking because he couldn’t shovel his driveway anymore,” she said. “He couldn’t open the door.”
Guerrero also heard from two elderly women in Lake Arrowhead who needed life-saving medication and tried to crawl out of a second-story window into the snow. As of Wednesday night, the couple had cleared snow for about 25 to 30 people.
“Nothing has been the county,” he said. “It’s all been us reaching out our hands and people meeting us halfway and helping each other in ways we need help.”
Alexander Vallejos, manager of the Twin Peaks Farmers Market, arrived at the Crestline library with a van full of donations from the Old Town Baking Co. in San Bernardino.
He and Sean Devine, also from the farmers’ market, were doing their rounds on Tuesday, dropping off bread.
“We’re just making sure that people have what they need,” Devine said. She has watched as distribution centers have been set up around mountain communities, where stranded people can walk to buy some food.
“It was really great to see people come together and help each other,” Devine said. “It’s a good feeling to be a part of this.”
Staff writer Grace Toohey contributed to this report.