EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: For San Bernardino Mountains Blizzard Victims, The Crisis Is Far From Over

This is the third part of an interview (the first two parts are here and here) with Beth Jahnsen, who lives in the San Bernardino Mountains, and thus experienced first-hand the San Bernardino Mountains blizzard of March 2023 and the utterly inept response of the state and local government to the storm. Jahnsen is working with Operation Mountain Strong to bring still-needed relief to mountain dwellers.

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In the previous segment, we discussed how San Bernardino County Sheriff and Coroner Shannon Dicus turned down assistance offers from nearby counties when the storm was at its most deadly. In this part, among other topics, the feckless behavior of County Supervisor Dawn Rowe is touched upon.


It’s almost impossible to imagine the amount of strain you and your fellow volunteers were under.

There are people I worked with that … we were working 18, 19 hours a day; some of us were getting only two hours of sleep. They couldn’t perform their regular jobs, and now they can’t pay their rent on a house with a cracked beam. And they’ve been told they won’t get relief money for that. We’re not enough of a disaster, probably because there are not enough people up here.

Many people here do not want to fill out that form saying, “Come inspect my house.” They do not wish to be red-tagged because they have nowhere to go, and the rent in California is so friggin’ expensive there’s no place to go. They know if they get red-tagged, their insurance will not cover it all, and there’s probably no FEMA money for them. So, there’s a bunch of people in houses that they shouldn’t be in. Therefore, when the officials look at the damage reports, they say, “Oh, the damage is not that bad.” It probably is much worse than they think because these people do not trust them. With good reasons.

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In your estimation, is everybody on the mountain accounted for in one fashion or another, or are there still people you don’t know, to put it bluntly, if they’re dead or alive?

There are still people. Yesterday (March 21) I saw a post by a guy that said, “I haven’t seen my neighbor. He’s elderly; he’s kind of doesn’t like people. I haven’t seen him in eight days or more. The snow is still on his car. There’s no sign of life.” He called the sheriff to do a welfare check. The sheriff came out and went up two flights of stairs that the guy couldn’t do because of a hip problem. The sheriff knocked on the door. He knocked on the windows. No answer. They’re trying to find any relatives. They didn’t go in. They didn’t go into the guy’s house. Now, he’s got a car in the driveway, covered in snow. No sign that anybody has shoveled one thing. That guy might have left. Maybe he had two cars. I don’t know. He’s either dead, or he left the mountain. We don’t know.

We’ve had many reports coming into Operation Mountain Strong through a form people can fill out on the website. The church we’re working out of right now is Southern Baptist Conference. They have a disaster relief group stretched to the limit in California, but they’re here. Two guys from it are staying in a little apartment at the church. Five days ago, they went up the mountain to see what they could see. They went to two places we haven’t been able to get to yet. One was with food, and the other was a welfare check; we had received a message from her asking for help. We hadn’t heard back from this woman, and we hadn’t been able to contact her. So, they went to the first one, climbed over the berm, and delivered food to this woman stuck in her house. Then they went to the other place, climbed over the snow and berm and everything, and managed to get to the door. Knocked on the door; knocked on the windows. No answer. Now, she reached out to us for help. From what they described at the house, she had not gotten any help. No one had plowed, and no one had shoveled anything. And there’s no answer at the door. I’m assuming she’s in there dead. Now I don’t know that for sure.

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Here’s one thing you need to know. The sheriff of our county is also the coroner.

Oh, there is no possible conflict of interest there.

Oh no. None at all.

I was in one of our first meetings about organizing help. One of the guys in the meeting got a phone call while we were in the meeting and asked us, “Who is Dawn Rowe?” She is the county supervisor for our district. He said, “Okay, she’s calling me; I’ll be right back.” So he left for about five minutes, and when he came back, he said, “Dawn Rowe said to me, ‘I tried to get the sheriff to accept the SAR (Search and Rescue) teams from L.A. and Orange County, and he will not accept them. He will not change his mind. I don’t know what to do.’” I told him, “Tell Dawn Rowe to get in front of the national media. Shame him. Tell the truth, you know?” She did not. She has not. So there you had Dawn Rowe saying she can’t make the sheriff accept help, and now she’s doing interviews saying what a great job they did, but they will do an investigation. They are going to investigate themselves. I’m sure that’ll be impartial.

 

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for clarity. 

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