In the San Bernardino Mountains, Coping With Mountains of Snow

CRESTLINE, Calif. — Goodwin & Sons Market, with its old-fashioned soda counter and sweet shop, has been a hub of civic life in Crestline, high in the San Bernardino Mountains, for nearly eight decades.

Now it’s starting over.

When a devastating storm swept through the region northeast of Los Angeles, dropping nearly 10 feet of snow, the roof of the market caved in one snowy night, leaving the Goodwins scrambling to save the family business.

“We’ve got to start rebuilding,” Bridgett Goodwin said this week as she cleared out the office to get ready for bulldozers to raze the property. “We’re the only market in town.”

Snowstorms are a fact of life here. During winters in childhood, Ms. Goodwin would snowshoe to the store with her family to make sure marooned residents could get food.

“But never anything like this,” she said, describing the moment the building collapsed as being like an avalanche. “The whole roof went poof. My brother was blown a hundred feet.”

As she worked, she thought of the rest of the community, and the many people who might still be trapped in their homes. During the storm, she said, her nephew, a firefighter in nearby Lake Arrowhead, was constantly checking on older residents, making sure they had enough food and delivering medications to them. When a neighbor, a man in his 80s who had health problems, died, the body was kept in the garage for days to stay cool.

“You’re going to hear more stories like that,” she said.

All along Lake Drive in the center of Crestline, there was a beehive of activity this week. Crews of firefighters in yellow pants shoveled snow from the roof of the post office. Traffic moved slowly, confined by high walls of snow on each side of the street. A few weary residents trickled into the Stockade Grub & Whiskey, open in the town since 1954, for beers or bison burgers.

Farther up in the mountains, along winding, narrow passageways, rescue crews were still reaching people who had been trapped for more than a week, after a storm dropped a deep blanket of snow that collapsed roofs, buried houses and cars, sent trees crashing down and left roads blocked and impassable.

“They’re still getting people out,” said Paul Holaday, a public information officer for the Orange County Fire Authority. “There are still areas they haven’t gotten to.”

Jammie Kline, 54, trudged along Lake Drive on Thursday after picking up her mail for the first time in a week and a half. “We’re helping each other up here,” she said.

Ms. Kline, who bags groceries at a Stater Bros. store in Lake Arrowhead, said that like many other residents she was frustrated by the slow initial response to the storm from county authorities, but that the community came together, organizing food distribution networks, shoveling out neighbors and delivering medicine.

Still, there was growing concern for neighbors still trapped and fears that more people might not be found alive. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office said on Thursday that it was investigating 13 deaths that happened during the storm, although it had determined so far that only one, from a traffic accident, was directly related to the storm. Officials were examining another eight deaths that were possibly linked to the storm.

But with rescues still underway, and more bad weather bearing down, a race was on to save people. A family was rescued on Thursday after they were snowed in and their roof partially collapsed. (“They are outdoor people, so they had food for a month,” said Brandon Halle, a firefighter involved in the rescue effort.)

Crestline was developed early in the last century by a citrus grower who was looking to set up a sawmill to make wooden boxes for shipping oranges around the country. The town has long drawn a mixture of woodsy types, New Age seekers looking to escape city life, and more recently, blue-collar workers who commute to the warehouses around the Inland Empire and were attracted by affordable house prices.

“We have all kinds up here,” said Ms. Kline, ticking off “old-timers who have been up here 30 or 40 years”; “hippies and our potheads”; and “newcomers who don’t know how to drive in the snow.”

Melissa Johnson, a bartender at the Stockade who grew up in Crestline, said of her hometown: “It’s a special, quaint place. You’re up in the mountains, hidden away from the city.”

New arrivals include Foxhound Productions, a film company that recently set up shop in an old theater in the center of town. “Not in recent memory have we benefited from a movie production company moving from Malibu to the mountains,” the local newspaper, The Alpine Mountaineer, reported last month, before the storm. The snow collapsed Foxhound’s roof as well.

After the storm, some residents were so frustrated by what they saw as a slow response by the county to clear roads and deliver supplies that they called the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who eventually dispatched the National Guard to the area. The Guard organized food drops from Blackhawk helicopters.

Chelsia Martinez, 26, a stay-at-home mother living in Crestline, said she called the governor’s office twice, and was told they would add her name to the growing list of residents who had phoned.

“I always wanted to live in the mountains,” said Ms. Martinez, who moved to town last year. “I’m getting the full experience now.”

She said she spent her cooped-up time playing board games like Monopoly with her children. Finding food was a daily adventure: She would walk to food distribution sites at the town’s library and at a church, the Jubilee Mountain Fellowship. At one point, she said, the local McDonald’s was clearing out its supplies, giving away milk, cheese and powdered eggs.

Rim of the World High School, perched on a mountain ridge in the town of Lake Arrowhead with majestic views of the San Bernardino Valley, has been open as an emergency shelter, with cots set up in the gymnasium and library.

Rafaela Rendon, 79, has been staying there since being displaced from her home by the storm. Her six-year-old dog, a cream-colored mutt named Cookie, stayed close to her, cowering at her feet under her walker. “She’s so traumatized,” Ms. Rendon said of the dog. “She’s afraid of people. She’s afraid of everything. She wasn’t like that before.”

Dr. Troy Pennington, who works with the county fire and sheriff’s department and specializes in emergency medicine, has been treating patients in an office at the school.

“In the first few days, we had some pretty sick people,” he said. There were homeless people who had been living in tents in the woods, schizophrenics in need of medication, burn victims whose houses had burned down because of gas leaks.

Asked about the frustrations of residents who believed the county could have been better prepared for the storm, he paused.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The reality is, it’s so overwhelming. It’s a hundred-year storm.”