A confirmed 12 people have died in Southern California since the historic snow storm, called Winter Storm Piper, struck the west coast last month, per the LA Times. The snow piled up nearly 10 feet, leaving the drastically unprepared residents and local officials stranded in their homes and unable to travel on roads for a long period of time.
One person who was left stranded in her house was 93-year-old Elinor “Dolly” Avenatti, who was found dead on Monday sitting next to her fireplace in her Crestline, CA home.
Avenatti’s great niece, Valli Bryan Compton, talked with NBC News about how power outages and unsafe roadways were major factors in the inability for Dolly to receive help that could have saved her life.
“Nobody expected that much snow,” Compton started. “It’s hard to say it’s the government’s fault or it’s the city’s fault. I just wish they could have let people go up there because we could have gotten her.”
Avenatti’s neighbor, Rhea-Frances Tetley, talked to the LA Times about how she and other neighbors had been checking on her for about a week, bringing food and such things, but as the power returned earlier this week, she stopped answering the door. Upon entering the house out of concern, they discovered her dead.
“She didn’t have heat,” Tetley said. “I think that she froze to death in the house.”
Despite being older, Tetley shared that Avenatti was very lively and “a joy for the neighborhood”.
“She was feisty and independent,” she added, “and generous to a fault.”
Such personality was expressed by Compton, as well, as she recalled their final conversation via a phone call.
“Winter wonderland!” she recalled her great aunt saying on February 28.
Compton said their call was disconnected at one point, taking 20 minutes for her to be able to reach her again. The next day, she checked local outage charts and found that her great aunt was most likely out of power once again.
“If she had power and wasn’t trapped in the house, I 99.99% believe she would still be here today,” Compton said. “At least she lived a great life and passed away in her happy place.”
With the local officials under much criticism of how the storm was handled, the spokesperson for San Bernardino County, David Wert, gave a statement, per NBC News.
“We understand that people are not happy about being trapped in their homes,” Wert said. “This was really unavoidable. When you have 10 feet of snow, there is no way to make it disappear instantly.”
Many people have wondered if precautionary evacuations might have prevented such tragedies in the area.
“Evacuations were never on the table,” Wert said in response. “They were never discussed. Have you ever heard of evacuations before a snowstorm in any part of the country?”
With the end of the snowfall, warm rains are now forecasted to hit Southern California, with Downtown Fresno predicted to get 3 inches of rain from Thursday night into Saturday morning.
The warm rain will risk extreme flooding conditions, and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has already issued an evacuation warning for the foothills and mountains, per NBC News.
The National Park Service in Sequoia and Kings Canyon issued a statement on Wednesday.
“There is major potential for flooding and serious road and infrastructure damage, in the parks as well as the surrounding communities,” they said, adding, “Preparations should be completed by the end of the day [Wednesday].”