San Bernardino Mountain residents reevaluate survival preparation amid disaster

They stocked up on firewood, gasoline for generators, food and water, and even Ice Melt. But nothing could prepare residents of the San Bernardino Mountains for the unprecedented wallop that inundated their homes and roads with snow and paralyzed their communities for two weeks.

In the end, much of what followed was beyond their control. Mail delivery stopped, meaning life-saving medications couldn’t reach them. A roof collapsed from the weight of snow at a Crestline supermarket and another was red-tagged in Blue Jay, choking off the local food supply. And imperiled mountain residents were told they would be on their own until first responders could dig out from under 10 feet of snow.

“This has been an unprecedented storm system. Residents in our mountain communities haven’t seen a storm like this in 50 years of living here,” said Mike McClintock, a battalion chief for the San Bernardino County Fire Department. “Ten feet of snow was dumped onto our mountain communities — from Wrightwood all the way east of Big Bear has been significantly impacted.

“I’ve been on the job almost 20 years and I haven’t seen something of this level.”

Cal Fire spokeswoman Chloe Castillo said the information gleaned from the disaster, how residents and first responders reacted to it, what went right and what went wrong, will be used as a guidepost in future emergencies.

“This is something we will all learn from,” Castillo said of the blizzard that smacked the region on Feb. 24.

How can residents prepare?

But what are the takeaways for local residents? How should they prepare for such a rare weather event?

A retired Texas firefighter and emergency medical technician who lives in Crestline said he and his wife had prepped for weeks before the storm hit, stocking up on food, water and other essentials. The resident, who asked to be identified only as Steve, and his wife, LIsa, had received a load of firewood just before the storm hit, and were able to share that with other residents in need.

They also filled their generator with gasoline, and had 20 gallons more stored in 5-gallon cans at the ready.

“The interesting thing is the firewood is under our parking deck and buried under 10 feet of snow, so I literally had to climb down in 10 feet of snow and throw it up into the street so Lisa could get it. Crazy!” Steve said.

Angie Henyan, left, Ben Reeves, center, and Chris Reeves help unload some of the 600 pounds of food delivered by helicopter in the parking lot of The Church of Latter-day Saints in Lake Arrowhead, CA, on Monday, March 6, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

For Katie Carson, a Crestline resident of 37 years, it was all about the Ice Melt, a product used to rapidly dissolve snow and ice from walkways and driveways.

“I had 100 pounds of it. Now I don’t,” said Carson, 62, who along with husband Steve Morris have been trapped in their home for more than two weeks. While well-stocked on food, water and other emergency items, she said she plans to double up on the Ice Melt for the next emergency.

Carson said she hadn’t seen a blizzard like this since the “March Miracle” blizzard of 1991, when heavy snow and flurries buried residents in more than 6 feet of snow, felled power lines and trees, triggered mass power outages across the mountains and an avalanche in an area of Big Bear Lake called the Arctic Circle, where Highway 18 meets the Big Bear Dam.

“We usually count our snow in inches. Our area ended up with 10 feet of snow, plus the snow drifts,” said Carson, 62, “We did not get plowed for over a week. It was horrible.”

Banding together

As is typically the case, disaster tends to bring out the best of humanity, and mountain residents quickly rose to the challenge of assisting one another amid the crisis as they awaited emergency aid, which began arriving to snowed-in communities around March 3 and expanded into the following week.

“Basically, everyone up here has kind of stepped up and helped their neighbors. People are giving each other food. We’re all checking on each other,” Steve said.

Kari Cummins, front, joins other volunteers as they sort food in the parking lot of The Church of Latter-day Saints in Lake Arrowhead, CA, on Monday, March 6, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Central to that effort were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who are encouraged by their leaders to become self-reliant through long-term food storage. Members in local wards across the San Bernardino Mountains were well-supplied, while those running low received help from other members.

Bishop Patrick Jackson of the Crestline LDS Ward said members are encouraged to build up stores of food and emergency supplies to last six months to a year.

“My family doesn’t have a six-month food supply, but we have enough to hunker down and get through this,” Jackson said. He said his family of seven has enough food and supplies on hand to last a little over a month.

“We’re working toward that six-month goal. It just comes down to buying a few extra things here and there when you make your food runs to Costco,” Jackson said.

At the Golden Rule Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Lake Arrowhead on Monday, March 6, Spencer Samuelian, bishop of the Laguna Beach Ward, landed his Bell 505 Jet Ranger X helicopter in the church parking lot and delivered more than 600 pounds of pasta, pasta sauce, beef jerky, granola bars and other assorted snacks, toiletries and other essentials to members of the church.

Bishop Brent Whitaker of the Golden Rule Ward had everything prepped and ready to go, Samuelian said.

“They had distribution tables set up. We offloaded, and they broke everything down on the tables, put it in waterproof plastic bags and sent them off with people to drop off at different homes,” said Samuelian, who owns and operates a portfolio of nursing facilities across Arizona.

Whitaker said he has a year’s supply of food stored at his home, and that most members of his ward likely could have gone on another month with what they had available, but were grateful for the welcome and bountiful supply Samuelian provided.

“It was just nice for him to bring us up some fruit snacks and gummy bears — stuff that makes people feel good,” Whitaker said.

On Friday, March 3, Samuelian made his first flight to Lake Arrowhead from John Wayne Airport, where he hangars his privately owned helicopter. He landed in the Mackay Recreational Park parking lot and handed off food and other provisions to members of Sandals Church, who distributed the food and supplies to members of the community.

“They were giving it to anyone who needed it. Really wonderful people,” Samuelian said. “We knew people were going through a hard week. It felt good to go up there and show them some love.”

Medical aid

Medical aid and need for medications appeared to be among the biggest challenges facing many trapped mountain residents.

Carson’s husband, Steve Morris, contracted sepsis following a hip replacement surgery, necessitating another emergency surgery, Carson said.

Morris was in need of antibiotics to treat his condition, but Carson had no luck trying to get help through the county’s emergency hotline. She found relief from a volunteer at Lake Gregory Community Church, who went to the Lake Gregory Pharmacy, picked up the prescription, and delivered it to Carson and Morris, which presented a challenge given that their home was blocked by a 12-foot-high snow berm.

“They actually had to throw the prescription over the berm to me,” Carson said.

Steve said his wife Lisa has diabetes and high blood pressure. Her medications are delivered in the mail, but when the mail stopped due to the blizzard, so did delivery of Lisa’s medications.

When some of the roads finally reopened on Monday, March 6, Steve was finally able to go pick up more food at a local market. But when he dropped by the Crestline post office, mail — and his wife’s prescriptions —  still had not been delivered, he said.

The diabetes medication finally arrived at the post office a couple of days later, but on Thursday, Steve said the couple was headed down the mountain, to the nearest Kaiser Permanente in Redlands, to pick up Lisa’s other medications.

Linda Gaston, 42, also of Crestline, suffers from cancer and had been on home hospice since July until the storm hit. She told the Southern California News Group she was snowed in without medication or hospice care for eight days before she was rescued by fire authorities on Friday and taken to St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino.

3-week plan

A Southern California survival expert said residents in disaster areas should be prepared to go it alone for three weeks, and work together with neighbors until first responders can assist them.

When a major disaster strikes, it can take first responders up to that long to coordinate and mobilize to aid those affected, said Dan Baird, head instructor at California Survival School in Brea.

“If you can take care of yourself for about three weeks, that’s a pretty good insurance system,” Baird said.

First and foremost, he said, residents should keep a first aid kit augmented with extra gauze, gauze wraps and an antiseptic like iodine for treating deep cuts. A little remote first aid training can also go a long way, Baird said.

Every household should have one gallon of water per person per day for drinking, cooking, washing and cleaning, and anyone with preexisting health conditions should stock up on any needed medications to last three weeks, if possible, Baird said.

Nonperishables such as canned goods, boxed crackers, cereals, granola and protein bars are good food sources that minimize cooking, Baird said. “Stick with things you already eat on a regular basis that are shelf stable without refrigeration. Just get more of it,” he said.

If stocking up on medication is problematic, Baird suggested that residents with health conditions plan contingencies with their medical provider for what to do if supply chains go down, or even consider relocating to safer places during dangerous seasons until it is safe to return home, if that is an option.

Other standard safety preparations to withstand extreme cold for long durations include having proper clothing and bedding, including 10- or 20-degree sleeping bags. Homeowners should ensure water pipes are safeguarded against freezing, snow is regularly removed from roofs and roofs are structurally sound, Baird said.

Wood-burning stoves also are good alternatives to gas and electric stoves should power outages strike, and a three-week to one month supply of firewood should be on hand, Baird said.

Related links

In interview, San Bernardino County sheriff calls criticism of storm response misguided
‘Take necessary precautions,’ San Bernardino County says as snow removal continues
Snow removal, food distribution continue in San Bernardino Mountains
Here’s how San Bernardino Mountains residents can get $500 for snow removal
San Bernardino County asking mountain residents to begin totaling up damage

Lastly, all mountain residents should have an emergency communications and community plan in place, including the old-fashioned “get to know your neighbor” buddy system, Baird said.

“That’s the oldest way in the book, and it’s kind of crazy that getting to know your neighbor is so foreign today, because that’s what used to be done, always,” Baird said.

Baird said everyone, not just mountain residents or people living in other danger-prone areas, could benefit from a wilderness survival training course, offered by California Survival School and a variety of other venues, including REI. He said the cost ranges from $165 to $300.

“It’s physical life insurance. It costs less than a weekend out,” he said.

Share the Post:

Related Posts

Generated by Feedzy