Storm kills at least 2, strands motorists; Southern California gets rare snow

Drivers stranded in California snowstorm
Drivers stranded in California snowstorm

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Story highlights

  • "It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen," witness says of officer's death on boat
  • A harbor patrolman is thrown into sea while trying to save a boat, witness says
  • A second death in Catalina Island harbor is also being investigated
  • A woman is killed in her sleep when a pine tree crashes on her home
An overnight storm delivered surprise snowfall and windy chaos to Southern California, stranding more than 100 motorists in the mountains, ripping boats from moorings and apparently killing a coastal island harbor patrolman.
In all, at least two people in California were killed in storm-related incidents since Tuesday, authorities said Wednesday.
In the Northern California city of Redding, a woman was killed in her sleep at 2:15 a.m. Wednesday when a tree fell on a corner of the house where she, her husband and 3-year-old daughter were in the same bed, authorities said.
The woman's death was attributed to the windy weather, and the husband and toddler were also pinned under the fallen gray pine but were later freed with minor injuries, said Deputy Fire Chief Gerry Gray in Redding.
The strength of the Californian winds was captured Wednesday on a YouTube video as the gust blasted through the Rose Bowl grounds, a day before the college playoff game between No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Oregon.
The video shows a twisting wind uprooting tents, poles and tarps, sending them skyward in a swirl. People scattered in an area dedicated to football fans. One person was whipped to the ground as the individual tried to grab control of a flying pole. The airborne tents and debris raked parked vehicles.
Snow covers a car -- you don't see this often in Southern California.
Four people sustained minor injuries, said spokeswoman Lisa Derderian of the Pasadena Fire Department.
Deaths in harbor
Elsewhere in Southern California, a harbor officer was killed in the waters of Catalina Island, and the death appears to be weather-related, Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said Wednesday.
The body of a second person, a man in his 50s, was also found in the water of Avalon Harbor, but authorities couldn't immediately attribute that death to the weather, Winter said.
Winter told CNN affiliate KTLA that the Avalon Harbor Department officer was trying to secure boats when he fell into the water Tuesday.
"There were boats that had broken loose from their moorings. He evidently got swept overboard and was pinned between the boat and rocks," Winter said.
Catalina Island resident Tom Quinn was sitting in one of the bars along the harbor when the storm unfolded rapidly, he told the affiliate. Avalon is a popular Catalina Island tourist destination about 25 miles across the water from Los Angeles' southernmost San Pedro neighborhood.
Snow can be seen at Rancho Santa Margarita, California.
The patrolman was trying to save a vessel, and the other deceased victim was also an experienced sailor, Quinn told KTLA. The Harbor Patrol, whose staff includes a harbor master and 11 patrol officers, assign moorings and provide security and enforcement of state and local laws, the city of Avalon says on its website.
The patrol officer was trying to save the King Neptune vessel when the officer was swept off the boat, according to John Etheridge, a Fountain Valley resident who owns property on the island. He told CNN affiliate KABC he witnessed the incident.
"When (the boat) hit the beach, it hit with a great deal of force and hit a couple of times and he was just thrown overboard," Etheridge told the affiliate. "It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen."
Snow joined palm trees in Orange County.
A crowd of 30 to 40 people saw the incident from shore and frantically tried to save the man, but they were unable to, according to Etheridge.
It was the worst storm he has seen on the island.
"There was no space in between the swells. It was just tearing boats off their mooring," Etheridge told the station.
Video footage showed that at least three boats were beached near the harbor seawall Wednesday.
From the sea to the mountains
The wicked winter storm stranded motorists on a pass in the San Bernardino Mountains near Crestline, California, authorities said.
Crews began using snowcats late Tuesday and rescued 136 trapped motorists on Highway 138 at Old Mill Road by 3 a.m. Wednesday, authorities told CNN affiliate KABC.
The all-weather, all-terrain snowcats, which have tank treads, trudged up the highway, the fire department said on its Twitter account. Then they took the motorists down to a local church.
The motorists became tuck near the town of Crestline, when a wreck blocked the road, and snow piled in on top of them, San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said. Some of them pulled out their phones and called for help.
Cell phone pictures posted to Twitter showed vehicles that had slid off the road.
Elsewhere in the San Bernardino Mountains, overnight snowfall trapped at least additional 25 motorists in their vehicles. They were also being rescued and taken to a shelter, fire officials said.
"I tried to come around the corner ... I didn't have the chains, so I hit the brakes and I went and veered off toward the other side," Paul Lewis of Hemet told KABC of being stuck on State Route 330.
Rare snow in Southern California
The snowfall was an extraordinary sight in palm tree-laden Southern California, and one resident in Murietta got out of bed to take video and a selfie of the rare snowflakes in the semi-arid area.
"It's been snowing all night. I couldn't believe my eyes. It never snowed here," said 26-year-old Mohamed Attia, who posted a video and a photograph on his CNN iReport page.
In Orange County, Michael Edman woke up to a couple of inches of snow in Rancho Santa Margarita.
"This the lowest, most snow I've seen" in the foothills, said Edman, an electrician for the Irvine school district who has lived in Orange County all his life, including the past 12 years in Rancho Santa Margarita.
He posted a photograph of the snow-laced hills on his CNN iReport page.