Volunteers are helping those stranded by a blizzard in Southern California
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
The rainstorms pummeling California aren't the only weather woe in the state, where a state of emergency has been declared in roughly two dozen counties so far. Desperation has turned to anger for many people in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles. Residents there continue to dig out from the freak blizzard there two weeks ago, and they say the county isn't doing enough to help. From member station KVCR in San Bernardino, Madison Aument reports.
MADISON AUMENT, BYLINE: Volunteers gather in a church parking lot at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains. The snow looks beautiful, but it's cut people off from vital supplies for weeks.
RITA NELSON: This is our donation drop-off point.
AUMENT: Rita Nelson has been organizing the relief.
NELSON: So people come, and companies and organizations come, and they're dropping off the food. And one way or another, we're getting it up to the mountain.
AUMENT: Like many of the volunteers, Nelson evacuated before the blizzard and hasn't been able to get home. The county has plowed hundreds of miles of roads, but many are only wide enough for one car and are difficult to maneuver. Many smaller roads are still snowed in or walled off with 10-foot piles the plows left behind. While people can't leave their homes, what has made it out are pleas for help, which tugged at Nelson.
NELSON: I'm not going to just sit here and watch and hear all these stories on Facebook and people texting and calling out for help. And you can't ignore that.
AUMENT: Some 25 volunteers who found each other via social media have jumped into action.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK BEEPING)
AUMENT: In the church parking lot, a volunteer backs up a big delivery truck. Others load cases of bottled water, food, snow shovels and other supplies into the back.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Folks are stranded out here.
AUMENT: The driver heads to the San Bernardino Airport, where helicopters wait to fly the supplies up the mountain.
AUMENT: Inside a hangar, yet more volunteers weigh the donations to calibrate each helicopter's load. This part of the operation is run by the California Disaster Airlift Response Team, or CalDART. It's a nonprofit, all-volunteer group of pilots who fly their own helicopters.
PAUL MARSHALL: Our focus area today is SkyPark because the roads are worst in SkyPark.
AUMENT: Paul Marshall is CalDART's president.
MARSHALL: They still can't get as easily into that area.
AUMENT: The helicopters are a lot faster and more agile than trucks. Ron Lovick is an incident commander with CalDART.
RON LOVICK: We can leave this airport, and we could be anywhere on that mountain in 15 minutes, and we can be right where it's needed.
AUMENT: Like where Kevin Conners lives, in the small mountain town of Crestline - population about 9,000. He was able to crawl out of a window and trudge from his home to a grocery store. The store's roof had collapsed, but he was able to get food.
KEVIN CONNERS: There's no one that's ever walked up to my door or to our neighbor's doors.
AUMENT: Conners feels like county officials have abandoned him.
CONNERS: I know they say they're going door to door, but they haven't looked at this street ever.
AUMENT: The frustration is understandable, says San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus. He's leading the storm response and says residents need to understand that in an emergency, there are priorities.
SHANNON DICUS: We've got to find those folks that are truly in dire need. If you're worried about, you know, your driveway getting plowed, those things become secondary, even though we're making great strides as a county.
AUMENT: San Bernardino has set up a hotline, food distribution sites and two shelters. Firefighters say they're going door to door to check for gas leaks. Meanwhile, CalDART volunteers plan to fly in supplies as long as they're needed.
For NPR News, I'm Madison Aument in San Bernardino.
(SOUNDBITE OF SKINSHAPE'S "MANDALA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.