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California's snow-stranded residents need food, plows, help

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Olivia Duke said she’s been trapped in her home in the snow-plastered mountains east of Los Angeles for so long that by Thursday the only food she had left was oatmeal.

Snow plows have created a wall of ice between her driveway and the road in the San Bernardino Mountains, and there are at least 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow weighing on her roof. While her power has been restored, she only has half a gallon of gas left for her generator in case it goes out again.

“California is not used to this. We don’t have this kind of snow,” said Duke, a corporate recruiter who lives in the community of Cedarpines Park. “I thought I was prepared. But not for this kind of Godzilla bomb of snow. This is something you couldn’t possibly really have prepared for.”

With Southern California's mountain communities under a snow emergency, residents are grappling with power outages, roof collapses and lack of baby formula and medicine. Many have been trapped in their homes for a week, their cars buried in snow. County workers fielded more than 500 calls for assistance Wednesday while firefighters tackled possible storm-related explosions and evacuated the most vulnerable with snowcats.

Californians are usually elated to see snow-covered mountains from Los Angeles and drive a couple of hours up to sled, ski and snowboard. But what started out as a beautiful sight has become a hazardous nightmare for those renting vacation homes in the scenic, tree-lined communities or who live there year-round. Back-to-back-snowstorms have blanketed the region repeatedly, giving people no time to even shovel out.

Some resort communities received as much as 10 feet (3 meters) of snow over the past week, according to the National Weather Service. So much snow fell that ski resorts had to close and roads became impassable. No snow was falling Thursday, and authorities said they hoped to clear as much as possible from the roads while the weather was benign.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared an emergency in 13 counties late Wednesday and called up the National Guard to assist.

In the northern part of the state, mountain communities are grappling with similar conditions, though the population is smaller and residents are more accustomed to significant snowfall, said Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the governor's Office of Emergency Services.

“These are just areas that don’t typically get that much snow,” he said of Southern California's mountain communities. “It exceeded the public’s perception of what the risk is.”

James Norton, 39, said he and his girlfriend have been stranded in Crestline for nearly a week after their SUV got trapped in the snow. They’ve been racking up credit card debt to pay for a hotel while buying TV dinners from a nearby convenience store.

Norton, who lives about 45 minutes away in San Bernardino, said he is worried about losing his job at an Amazon packaging facility because he’s missing shifts. He said they made the trip to dog sit for a friend on Friday and thought they were prepared because he installed chains on the tires of the SUV.

“We knew there was going to be a snowstorm,” Norton said. “We didn’t know it was going to be a disaster.”

Firefighters have been evacuating residents who are medically vulnerable and have no heat or damaged homes to a Red Cross shelter set up at a local high school. They've also been responding to reports of gas leaks and storm-related fires with hydrants buried in deep snow, said Mike McClintock, San Bernardino County Fire Battalion Chief.

Two homes reported explosions that are under investigation but atypical for the area and likely storm-related, he said.

More than 1,000 customers lacked power as of Wednesday night, he said. Many roads were closed and emergency escorts provided to motorists earlier in the week to access the area were suspended as the region received a fresh 2 feet feet (60 centimeters) of snow.

About 80,000 people live in the San Bernardino Mountain communities either part- or full-time. The county has fielded more than 500 calls on a hotline set up for the emergency, many from people seeking plow assistance, baby formula and medicine, said Dawn Rowe, chair of the county board of supervisors.

Community members also have been helping each other through the Rim Guardian Angels Facebook group. They responded to requests to get an elderly man with high blood pressure to a hospital after he ran out of medication, to provide bandages to someone who suffered a deep laceration and food to people who were trapped in a rented house.

Andrew Braggins, 43, said the ceiling in his kitchen in Crestline began to bow from the weight of all the snow, prompting him to shovel his roof. The snow on it was 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep.

But Braggins, who is one of the administrators for the Facebook group, considers himself one of the luckier ones.

“I’ve got friends just a few roads away, and they’ve been without power for days,” said Braggins, who works as a wedding and event planner. “You can stock up for a storm. But this storm kind of kept coming.”

State officials are urging people to stay off mountain roads this weekend to keep them clear for first responders.

No snow is forecast for Southern California's mountains for several days, but the National Weather Service said Northern California mountains can expect heavy snow on Saturday with a winter storm watch in effect for communities east of Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe on the Nevada border.

Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia.