Snowbound California guests freed after 5 days at lodge

LOS ANGELES — More than 120 visitors and staff who were snowbound in a Sierra Nevada resort for five days have been freed, authorities said Friday.

Up to 7 feet (2 meters) of snow trapped the guests and staff at Montecito Sequoia Lodge in Sequoia National Forest starting Sunday following a storm, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Alicia Embrey said.

Crews had to travel by snowmobile to get to the lodge in the mountains east of Fresno on Wednesday morning, when they ensured everyone was safe. They returned Thursday with additional supplies, she said.

Heavy equipment and crews then cleared more than 20 fallen trees and 8 miles (13 kilometers) of deep snow on the road leading to the lodge to allow guests and staff to finally leave the property on Thursday night.

Though some got bored during the snow-in, Embrey said the lodge had enough food, fuel and general supplies to keep everyone comfortable.

"Physically they were fine," Embrey said. "They were obviously happy to go home."

Joel Keeler posted several videos of his experience at the lodge on Twitter starting Tuesday, when the snow was still coming down and guests learned they still weren't going to be able to leave.

The next day, he posted: "It's cold, clear and beautiful, but we're still snowed in!"

"They are working hard to clear the road ... Still a lot of driveway left tho!" he wrote.

On Thursday, he posted that guests were finally going to go home, sharing video of the cleared roadway and a caravan of dozens of snow-capped vehicles snaking their way out next to towering snowbanks.

The snow that trapped the guests began falling Friday, blanketing the area with between 4 to 7 feet (1 to 2 meters) by Saturday night, Embrey said, adding that roads to the lodge were closed by Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, another winter storm is on the way to the region.

Meteorologists issued a winter storm warning for the southern Sierra Nevada starting Friday afternoon, predicting more snow, high winds and potentially hazardous conditions including falling trees and slick roads.

The Forest Service urged visitors to travel with extreme caution.

"The most recent storm has left very little room to maneuver and nowhere to put new snow," Ned Kelleher, chief ranger for Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, said in a statement.

He added: "The trees are snow and ice laden and the accumulating new snow will cause failures."

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Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP

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