Photo: Courtesy Barbara Arenz
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This story originally appeared on KCRA.
Intermittent closures of Highway 50 in the Sierra as a result of a series of snowstorms led to hours-long treks to South Lake Tahoe and foothill communities becoming inundated with travelers.
Pollock Pines was among the towns hit hardest Friday as skiers, snowboarders and cabin-goers sought the Sierra for the long weekend.
It was there that so many stopped when Highway 50 shut down, looking for respite in the town’s few restaurants and gas stations. Those options, locals said, aren’t enough to sustain the masses that arrived in Pollock Pines.
“They have nowhere to go to the bathroom, and there’s not enough restaurants. We have basically a couple restaurants that are open, one grocery store, two gas stations,” said resident Cathy Staller. “They’re inundating the town. Double parking, triple parking onto the streets so no one has any way to get out, get in, get to the grocery store, and emergency services couldn’t even leave the fire department.”
What’s worse, Staller said that as the night went on, some people began to fight. Others used the bathroom where they saw fit.
“People were going to the bathroom out on the side of the road, having snowball fights in the middle of the street. They started fighting. People were getting angry. Using GPS to try to get to roads that they thought were there that aren’t there. Getting stuck at people’s homes,” she said. “It was a dangerous situation up here, and they should’ve been stopped down the road.”
Jim McCarthy, owner of 50 Grand Restaurant and Bar, said he saw the fighting as well.
“Towards the end of the evening, we were seeing fighting out on the road,” he said. “Earlier in the day, we were distributing down the road — I took some of my employees and we went down and were handing out coffee out and hot chocolate. Everybody that was there was thankful that we were doing that, but the biggest thing they were looking for was the information on was what was happening.”
McCarthy said the information he had was limited. He turned to Caltrans’ website, but he couldn’t get specific estimates of when the road might reopen. He said people remained hopeful that they might make it over the summit and didn’t realize that wasn’t going to happen.
The restaurant, McCarthy said, saw 150 customers in just a two-hour span. Visitors virtually wiped out his inventory. His employees worked a 14-hour day in some cases, and he and his wife stayed until 2 a.m. Saturday.
One man outside the restaurant, he explained, demanded to come inside the restaurant to use the bathroom as they were closing.
“There was a guy banging on our door in the evening, you know, demanding to be let in and all of that. My wife goes out, and he had defecated on our front porch step, which was a little unfortunate,” McCarthy said. “We cleaned it up, but it’s not the behavior that I would like to see.”
Staller believes much of that kind of behavior could have been avoided.
“I think all of our systems up here just kind of were so overwhelmed by the people, the whole thing was a total failure. They should’ve been stopped down the road after that first storm we had when people still don’t have power and stuff up here,” she said. “So that we can survive. We can take on some of the people, but we could not take on everybody that wanted their vacation weekend.”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/highway-50-shut-down-sierra-presidents-day-13623367.php.