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2 dead, drivers stranded in SoCal winter storm

Two people, including a harbor patrolman, died on a wind-beaten Southern California coastal island and emergency crews rescued more than 100 drivers trapped in the snow-caked mountains outside Los Angeles as a fierce winter storm crept over the region, officials said on Wednesday.

A harbor patrolman was killed in a boating accident in the City of Avalon on wind-battered Catalina Island, off the southern California coast, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

Local broadcast footage showed wind-whipped ocean waters pushing two boats up onto the beach. Officials were investigating the role the weather played in the death of the patrolman, as well as that of a second person on Catalina Island.

Meanwhile, a winter storm dumped snow in the San Bernardino Mountains outside Los Angeles and county firefighters rescued 136 motorists who became stranded on icy, switchback roads on State Highway 138 near Crestline, San Bernardino County fire officials said in a statement.

Near Mount Baldy, roughly 50 people were stranded in similar conditions, the statement said.

The rescue operations ended by 3 a.m. local time on Wednesday, with dozens seeking refuge at a church in Crestline although no serious collisions or medical emergencies were initially reported.

“Some motorists were either able to eventually drive away as plows cleared snow on the periphery of the incident. Still others abandoned their vehicles and walked to shelter or were able to reach their homes,” the fire officials’ statement said.

Damaging winds with gusts of more than 60 mph would continue across parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties into the afternoon on Wednesday, with toppled trees and powerlines likely, the National Weather Service said.

The cold air mass would bring freezing temperatures throughout much of southwestern California through Thursday, the service said.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle.

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