LOS ANGELES — When his 17-year-old son and friend headed off for a 10-day trek in the Southern California mountains, Cesar Ramirez said he wasn’t too worried. The teens were avid hikers with ample foods in their backpacks, a tent and snowshoes, plus extensive training and aspirations to join the military.
But when the snow began pummeling the mountains east of Los Angeles by the foot-load and Ramirez lost contact with them through a tracking app, he called the San Bernardino County sheriff’s department. They dispatched a helicopter to the boys’ last known location, followed their foot tracks and spotted and rescued them. By then, Ramirez’s son had lost his jacket to the wind, and their tent had broken, the father said.
“They’ve told us, ‘We were already convinced we were going to die,’” said Ramirez, of Cypress, California.
The dramatic rescue came as California has struggled to dig out residents in mountain communities from as much as 10 feet of snow after back-to-back storms battered the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared states of emergency in 13 counties including San Bernardino County, where the massive snowfall has closed roads, caused power outages, collapsed roofs and trapped residents in their homes for days.
San Bernardino County sheriff’s Sgt. John Scalise said the boys were slightly hypothermic and lucky to be alive after huddling together for three nights to stay warm. He said they were well-prepared for the hike but not for the massive amounts of snow. “They knew there was weather. But I don’t think they expected the amount,” he said.
In a separate rescue operation further north in Inyo County, a man was found waving inside his partly snow-covered vehicle Thursday after the California Highway Patrol identified a cellphone ping linked to him and sent out a helicopter crew. He drove out from the community of Big Pine and was last heard from on Feb. 24, sheriff's authorities in the county on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada said in a statement.
Another strong storm dumped more snow Saturday on Northern California mountain communities, and a winter storm warning was in effect through early Monday, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
In Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains, authorities have been working to clear roads and distribute food, water and blankets to snow-battered residents while the Red Cross has set up a shelter at a local high school. There is a slight chance of snow showers in the region on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in San Diego.
Authorities have said some residents could be shut in for another week because of the challenges in clearing out so much snow.
Katy Curtis, who lives in the San Bernardino mountain community of Crestline, said she hiked with snowshoes for five miles (eight kilometers) to get a can of gasoline to a family trapped in their house to fuel a generator.
“I’m healthy, so I just thought, well, I can walk, and I did. But it was probably the longest day of my life," said Curtis, adding the family had someone with medical needs. Cars are completely buried, and snow is piled up to the roof of her home. Curtis said.
“We’re just all so exhausted in every way,” she said.
Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento contributed to this report.