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Teenagers rescued days after blizzard: "Sure we’re going to die"

When his 17-year-old son and a friend set off for a 10-day trek in the mountains of Southern California, Cesar Ramirez said he wasn’t too worried. The teenagers — Riley Ramirez and Cole White — were avid hikers with enough food in their backpacks, a tent and snowshoes, as well as extensive training and a desire to join the military.

But when snow began pounding the mountains east of Los Angeles and Ramirez lost contact with them through a tracking app, he called the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. They send a helicopter to the boys’ last known location, follow their foot tracks and find and rescue them. By then, Ramirez’s son had lost his jacket in the wind and their tent had collapsed, the father said.

“They told us, ‘We were already sure we were going to die,'” said Ramirez, of Cypress, California.

Crews took the juveniles to the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station, where they received medical attention, food, water and a warm place until their parents arrived, the sheriff’s department said in a statement.

The dramatic rescue came as California struggled Excavating residents A series of storms hit the state after dumping up to 10 feet of snow in mountainous areas. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in 13 counties, including San Bernardino County, where heavy snow closed roads, caused power outages, collapsed roofs and trapped residents in their homes for days.

Winter weather in California

This NASA Earth Observatory satellite image using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey shows the Santa Clarita, Lancaster and Angeles National Forest areas north of Los Angeles, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023, during a recent snowstorm.

/ AP

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Sergeant John Scalise said the boys were slightly hypothermic and lucky to be alive after staying together for three nights to stay warm. He said they were well prepared for the hike but not for heavy snowfall over the next few days.

“They knew there was weather. But I don’t think they expected the magnitude,” Scalise said. “Oh my gosh, I’ve been doing search and rescue for the last 18 years of my career. And I can tell you these kids should have died.”

In a separate rescue operation further north in Inyo County, a man was found swaying inside his partially snow-covered car Thursday after the California Highway Patrol detected a cellphone ping linked to him and dispatched a helicopter crew. She drove away from the community of Big Pine and was last heard from on Feb. 24, sheriff’s authorities in the eastern Sierra Nevada county said in a statement.

Another powerful storm dumped more snow on northern California mountain communities Saturday and a winter storm warning was in effect early Monday, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

In Southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains, authorities are working to clear roads and distribute food, water and blankets to snow-ravaged residents while the Red Cross sets up a shelter at a local high school. There is a slight chance of snow in the area Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in San Diego.

Authorities said the challenge of clearing so much snow could keep some residents closed for another week.

Yosemite National Park officials said last week The park had to close indefinitely after 15 feet of snow piled up in some parts of the park. Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman, who has been a ranger at the California park for more than a quarter of a century, told the Los Angeles Times that the latest fall was “the most snowfall I’ve ever seen at one time.”

Katy Curtis, who lives in the San Bernardino mountain community of Crestline, said she snowshoes five miles (eight kilometers) to get a can of gasoline to a family stuck in their house to power a generator.

“I’m healthy, so I just thought, OK, I can walk, and I did. But it was probably the longest day of my life,” said Curtis, who had someone in the family who needed treatment. Cars were completely buried and snow piled on the roof of his house. Curtis said.

“We’re all exhausted from all sides,” he said.

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