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Frozen in their tracks

Local hotels packed with stranded travelers

Posted: December 18, 2008 8:22 p.m.
Updated: December 19, 2008 4:59 a.m.

Tony Belfiore and his wife Wivina, both of Agua Dulce, play in the snow while stuck in traffic on Sierra Highway Thursday morning. They moved here from Northern California four years ago, and she said this is the first time they've had snow so close to home.

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Frustrated motorists stranded overnight finally fled the Santa Clarita Valley on Thursday after jamming hotels and motels to capacity.

Many motorists slept in their cars in sub-freezing temperatures, and big-rig trucks lined both freeways leading north out of the valley.

"Why can't we move from here?" Lancaster resident Will Grey shouted in annoyance Thursday morning as he waited with other motorists and truck drivers on Sierra Highway, which also was closed.

A Saugus man was killed on the San Fernando Road onramp to southbound Highway 14 early Thursday as he lost control of his Jeep Cherokee on a patch of black ice.

Hotels and motels Wednesday night were filled to capacity, and many would-be travelers were turned away.

At La Quinta Inn in Stevenson Ranch, staff members allowed people to sleep on the floors in the cafeteria and a meeting room.

"At times we were 20 deep with people looking for rooms," La Quinta manager Sue Nevius said.

Shortly before noon, the California Highway Patrol began escorting 1,000 vehicles at a time through the
Tejon Pass on Interstate 5.

Topping out at an elevation of 4,000 feet, the pass was closed for almost 24 hours after a storm dumped nearly a foot of snow.

Some drivers apparently couldn't wait, however. A motorist waiting for the southbound lanes to reopen was arrested for investigation of hit-and-run driving after running through barricades and striking a California

Department of Transportation worker, causing minor injuries, authorities said.

Highway 14 reopened Thursday afternoon, along with adjacent Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road.

The threat of subfreezing temperatures will continue in Santa Clarita Valley through Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service. Gusty northwest winds may impact some areas Friday night and into Saturday. Rain is expected to return Monday, the service said.

Temperatures are expected to drop to 33 degrees tonight and climb to 53 degrees tomorrow.

Some Metrolink commuter trains running between the Antelope Valley and Los Angeles were delayed up to 45 minutes and one was canceled because of weather.

Spokesman Francisco Oaxaca said train crews were late reporting to work because they had to rest for a federally mandated number of hours. Road closures kept some replacement crews from arriving.

Snow levels dropped to about 1,800 feet during Wednesday's snow storm.

Frazier Park reported 12 inches of snow at the 5,000-foot level. The town of Neenach, located near
Interstate 5 in the extreme northwest portion of the Antelope Valley, reported 12 inches of snow, said Joe Sirand, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

The heaviest snowfall in the Antelope Valley was reported from Llano at 22 inches. Wrightwood reported 30 inches of snow; Mt. Wilson reported 8 inches.

High wind added to the storm's severity. Sensors in Saugus clocked winds as high as 42 mph. A wind sensor in Acton recorded a gust of 62 mph at about the same time.

The National Weather Service's Lake Palmdale sensor recorded a similar-time 46-mph gust.

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