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Twelve deaths reported in Southern California mountains since snowstorm, only one so far ruled weather-related

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Daniela Simona Temneanu / EyeEm/Getty Images

(SAN BERNARDINIO COUNTY, Calif.) — Twelve people have died after powerful storms hit Southern California’s San Bernardino County and cut off mountain communities. However, only one of those deaths, which was caused by a traffic accident, is so far being considered weather-related, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

“The preliminary information in the other deaths does not indicate they are weather related, but those investigations are ongoing,” the sheriff’s department said.

A series of snowstorms brought unprecedented snow to California late February into early March. San Bernardino County declared a local emergency on Feb. 27 “after residents of mountain communities found themselves trapped at home or unable to reach home due to several feet of snow that fell over the weekend,” officials said at the time.

On Feb. 23, the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the San Bernardino Mountains, the first in more than three decades. The weather service initially forecast a snowfall of about 5 feet at elevations as low as 5,000 feet.

Crews have removed more than 7.2 million cubic yards of snow from highways in San Bernardino County, which equals nearly 2,270 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to the governor’s office.

“We continue to support our allied agencies who made great progress overnight on utility restoration. Last night deputies responded to several well checks; residents were safe, supplied, & declined evacuation. Deputies continue responding to calls & assisting residents,” the sheriff’s department said Wednesday.

Residents have told horror stories about being stuck, snowed in at homes with no way in or out.

Christine Foster, who lives in the San Bernardino Mountains, told ABC News on Monday that she and her 76-year-old father have been hunkered down, unable to get out of their home for 14 days with food running low.

“You can’t even shovel the stuff. It’s just rock hard ice. Shovels just easily break,” Foster said in a telephone interview from her home in Lake Arrowhead.

The storm left about 600 elementary and middle school students from Orange County’s Irvine Unified School District stranded for a weekend, after they were unable to return from a school trip.

More rain and snow are headed toward California Thursday and Friday when a major storm hits the state. An atmospheric river will slam the San Francisco area with heavy rain and dump another 5 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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