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Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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‘Send Help if You Can’: Rural Residents Trapped by Snow for Nearly Two Weeks Struggling to Survive

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That was from the HCSO. This caption is: County crews plow roads made accessible by dozer operator [Photo by Shanon Taliaferro]

An unusually harsh winter dumped snow on the rural mountains of northwestern California nearly two weeks ago, stranding residents and leaving some with dwindling to nonexistent supplies. Humboldt County’s Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell says the snow hasn’t been this deep since 1989 and, this time with snow falling clear to sea level at times, ranchers and other rural dwellers are unable to get out to resupply.

Many of these folks are used to snow and having to hunker down for a week without resupplying, but the latest rounds of snow pushed them to their limits.

Bushnell told us, “Some have snowdrifts to top of their houses. It’s not manageable.”

Some have medical needs including medicine that is running out or is already gone. Others are out of fuel and food for themselves and their animals while ranchers are struggling to feed their livestock. Water lines have frozen leaving residents and cattle without an easy way to quench their thirst.

Today, we received a letter from a man who lives east of Laytonville in Mendocino County.

Good morning Kym,

I've been stuck on Iron Peak for 12 days now.

There's 3' of new snow since last night and it's still dumping at 6a.m. With all the talk in the news about folks being rescued in So Cal but nothing about Mendocino county. Is the issue being addressed by anyone in authority?

I'm out of some of my meds, running low on food and am starting to get worried. The pics I can send you are insane. I've called the California OES, and the Mendocino county sheriff and was told there was nothing they could do until the governor includes Mendocino county in the most recent declaration. And then there's not much they can do because Mendocino county doesn't have the equipment to remove so much snow.

There's about 10 people on my road in worse condition than me, I have power, water, heat, a working phone. One guy has been sitting in a 5th wheel in the dark, no gas, propane with 2 dogs. He ran out of gas and propane 4 days ago. The snow is too deep to check on him, and there's others who are in different states of desperation up here. Send help if you can. I'm beginning to fear for peoples lives.

Have a warm dry day,

Deano [Criscitiello]

This morning, Humboldt County Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell spoke to us from her rural ranch in the southeastern part of the county. “I’m trying to dig out right now,” she explained.

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But, she said, This is “500 times worse than a normal winter. In 1989 was the last time it snowed this much. And this time snow went to sea level which didn’t happen in 1989. So there is nowhere for stock to get down to some grass.”


Calf surrounded by snow. [Photo by Supervisor Michelle Bushnell]

The snow keeps falling. “Last night, an additional foot fell,” she told us. “The snow is deeper than the calves are tall.”

Ranchers are having to buy feed and haul it to where their livestock are but…the snow is making that impossible in many cases, she told us.

When the snow fell hard in late February, it came in wet and heavy breaking multiple trees and pulling down power lines and even poles. The downed trees not only blocked main roads and county roads but trapped some residents behind a jumble of broken branches and thick trunks which crisscrossed their private driveways.

Since then the snow has stopped for only a day or two but then continued. Residents are running out of fuel to run ATVs and chainsaws and even to run their own homes.

Bushnell told us that county staff, the CHP, County road workers, local volunteer firefighters, the Sheriff’s departments, PG&E, and neighbors are exhausted as they struggle to help everyone.

“We don’t have [snow like this],” Bushnell explained. “We’re not used to it and we’re not prepared for it…Shoveling snow out is exhausting and it keeps coming.” She described the process of clearing roads of snow and then having snow fall again as “the ultimate groundhog day.”

The Hoaglin-Zenia School inundated with snow [Photo from Peggy Canale]

Mendocino County Supervisor John Haschak is aware of at least two rural residents socked in by snow and low on provisions, one in Bells Springs and the other on Spy Rock Road. From reports he has received, those folks are being supported by neighbors till the weather clears.

Laytonville radio station KPHT DJ Long John recounted his experience of being rescued by Mendocino County Search and Rescue team. He had been socked in by snow since February 21, 2023 stuck at the top of Bell Springs Road. The snow quickly piled up and John realized “there was no way I could get out to resupply meds and propane.” 

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He ran out of meds, had but a “whisper of propane”, and a friend of his contacted Mendocino County authorities. Next thing he knew, MCSO called John and said help was on the way. 

He sat and waited and finally heard the sound of a motor coming down his driveway. Outside, a group of men on a SAR ATV fitted with tracks were there to take him to safety. 

John rode with the men down the mountain while the Laytonville Fire Chief went to a phamacy to get his heart medication. Since then, he has been in a Willits motel, “warm and dry” thankful to all those that “came through in a BIG way and I”m now safe from a bad outcome.”

Communities are trying to rally. On Thomas Road west of Miranda in Southern Humboldt County, locals hired heavy equipment operators to clear their main road and individual landowners paid for their driveways to be cleared. On Alderpoint, volunteers assisted county workers when the snow was too deep for county vehicles.

But, the need is great. Bushnell said she talked to 22 ranchers yesterday. “Only one said we got it,” she told us. Most, she said are struggling and telling her, “We have cows stuck and we can’t get to them.”

Bushnell told us there is hope–a coordinated operation involving the Coast Guard, Cal Fire, and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department are dropping hay to remote ranches by helicopter to feed starving livestock. Operation John Wayne (the name an attempt to bring a little humor during rough times) is commencing today. 

Humboldt County Supervisors Michelle Bushnell and Rex Bohn reached out on behalf of not only their constituents but the surrounding countys’ residents. Because in an emergency county borders don’t matter to the people and animals needing help, Bushnell told us Operation John Wayne is “not specific to Humboldt–they are flying to Trinity and Mendocino” as well.


[Photo by Michelle Bushnell]

“Diana Totten is the person to call,” Bushnell explained that the experienced Southern Humboldt leader is in charge of gathering coordinates from ranchers who need to get food to their livestock. Her number is (707) 223-2455. “Our first drop’s today,” she told us. The hay will be dropped into Rainbow Ridge out by Scotia. The drops are structured by need–how many animals and how long have they been without food.

And, there is help available to rural residents of Humboldt County. Bushnell explained, “If you are stuck and you need help, I have a number for you–(707) 445–7251. That’s the Sheriff’s Department.” She explained that they are able to send in their Snowcat. “They’ll get to you if you need medicine or out of food or heat,” she said. But please don’t call unless it is necessary so that the equipment can be used for those that need it most. She also suggested that as snow is supposed to last through Wednesday, “if you get out, try to go to a place where you won’t be stranded again.”

An RV towards the top of Bell Springs half-way covered in snow [Photo by Virgil Scigla]

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Matt Kendall told us his agency will deploy search and rescue personnel for anyone running low on food, fuel, or other provisions. But, those residents will evacuate with his personnel

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He told us he has received calls from residents requesting supplies be delivered, which he said his agency will not do. “We are no DoorDash. I am not going to ask search and rescue to go out and deliver Snickers bars. We will deploy if someone cannot survive, but we’re going to take you into town and shelter you.”

Humboldt County Supervisor Michelle Bushnell urged neighbors to think who they can check on and assist. “Don’t wait to be asked,” she said. “If you think you can help, please do that.”

She noted that after Wednesday, the weather is predicted to warm up and rain is coming “which can cause its own set of problems.” With thoughts of how the heavy snow of 1964 was melted by warm rain and caused an unprecedented flood, she pointed out, “[The coming warmer weather] is making everyone nervous.”

Bushnell urged everyone to remember that this is a crisis. “Please don’t beat up on anybody right now,” she asked. “Wait till afterward and we can use [what happened] as a learning experience. Some folks have never been through this type of snow.” The closest similar snowfall happened over 30 years ago–an entire generation of people living in the hills have never dealt with this type of emergency situation and are not prepared.

But Bushnell said when a crisis happens in Humboldt County, “we come together in disasters and we’ve proven it over and over again.”


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6 COMMENTS

  1. Deano, I am so sorry that y’all are getting hit so hard. As I recall there was another person from lake county stuck in a frozen tin can (travel trailer) who’s loved one was asking for a candle or bottle of water. No one responded to the best of my knowledge. I am sorry that I can not physically respond to you, my cars broke down right now. I don’t know how to drive in the snow. But I’m so glad you’re reaching out for help and I’m praying for you and your neighbors today and just want you to know that someone cares. I pray that someone who has the means and snow vehicle to reach your neighborhood will do just that. I’d be willing to donate if finances were needed. Sending love, prayers, and (warm) wishes. Pun intended. Hang in there, I pray help is on the way!!! ????????????Ukiah.

  2. What we’re being shown here is that the County of Mendocino Public Works Dept is ill prepared for anything but a dusting of snow. In other areas, the County has snow plows and is responsible for plowing the public county roads. I bet most of these Counties up here don’t even own a commercial snow plow. And no I’m not talking about a plow attachment on the front of a pickup truck. I mean a real snow plow. It’s ridiculous that citizens ask the County California OES, and the Mendocino county sheriff for help.

  3. I keep reading the DoorDash and Snickers comment and getting madder and madder as I take breaks digging in several feet of snow to get up to a place to try to see my horses. I dug all the way down to them earlier in the storm, and then an old abandoned mare I’d been taking care of died down there and I hauled all their food up here because predators might come. Being stuck with that mare is a whole other thing with this county. And now the poor thing couldn’t handle the deep snow. Just like I was worried about.

    Humboldt is doing a better job on this one all around, by the looks of it, including not treating the non city folk public like errant peasants.

    • That said. Man is it frustrating when people don’t prepare. And country people should indeed pride themes on being reasonably prepared for emergencies, though one must also remember many people up here lack funds. I at least have ‘enough’ but I don’t have a barn full of hay either. A lot of people here have almost nothing.

      Anyway, if things were a bit different I might be on board with this guy’s ‘insensitive’ comments… But this county seems to have a habit of looking down its nose at people.

      This really is a serious situation, and shouldn’t this bloated nanny state (or even a ‘functioning government’) help the people we can’t even get to right now?

      Also, these officials are totally deaf to the idea that many people in an area like this have stock. Humboldt got that.

  4. We are no door dash? F that! What happened to all the disaster money from the fires, covid? We should have a better fleet of emergency vehicles! Did we learn nothing from the scramble in Redwood Valley after that fire? We don’t have enough anything! What on earth happened to all that money for emergency preparedness!!?!!

    ALSO: the over dramatization of regular storms has led people to ignore actual storms. If every report calls a rain storm a “bomb cyclone” or “atmospheric river” then people won’t know when an actual “big storm” is comming. Weather reporting needs to stop with the eleitist exclusionary discourse.

  5. IT SEEMS THAT THE OFFICE OF EMERGENCY SERVICES HAS IT’S HANDS TIED UNTIL OUR COUNTY IS DECLARED AN EMERGENCY/DISASTER AREA.DESPITE OUR SHERIFFS UNDIPLOMATIC [READ THAT AS STUPID ,IGNORANT AND UNDIGNIFIED] COMMENTS HE DID SAY HE WOULD RESCUE AND HOUSE PEOPLE.BUT OF COURSE HOW WILL THEY EAT, HAVE MEDS ETC.ETC.HOWEVER ! IF! LIVES ARE TRULY AT RISK HUMAN SURVIVAL COMES FIRST.
    SNOW REMOVAL EQUIPMENT THAT MIGHT SIT IDLE FOR DECADES IS UNREALISTIC FOR OUR UP TO NOW CLIMATE;BUT SURELY SOME SORT OF LEND/LEASE PROGRAM WITH OTHER STATE AREAS SHOULD BE IN PLACE FOR RAPID DEPLOYMENT.
    WHAT HAPPENED TO CAL FIRE HELICOPTERS FOR RESCUE OR THE MEDIVACS,OR NATIONAL GUARD POLICE OR HIGHWAY PATROL CHOPPERS.
    SURELY THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR EMERGENCY PLANNING NEED TO BE REPLACED OR AT THE VERY LEAST GET THEIR HEADS OUT OF THAT DARK AND ODOROUS PLACE.

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