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Family mourns 93-year-old woman who died during historic snowstorm

Family mourns loss of 93-year-old woman who died during snowstorm in San Bernardino mountains
Family mourns loss of 93-year-old woman who died during snowstorm in San Bernardino mountains 03:10

Describing her as a fiercely independent and charitable person, the family of 93-year-old Eleanor "Dolly" Avenatti mourned the death of their matriarch as they continued to wait for answers surrounding her death. 

According to the family, Avenatti died during the historic snowstorm that trapped residents in the San Bernardino mountains. Her family said she died alone in her home, without power, phone service and with little food.

"She lived the life she wanted to live," said Dolly's nephew Ron Fosson, noting that she still walked the neighborhood on a daily basis. 

Fosson noted that he called her on every day leading up to the massive storm, to which she always answered: "A Winter Wonderland!" He said that since she was living alone with dementia, she knew nothing of the devastation going on in the communities surrounding her home.

Living out of state, he called the San Bernardino County Storm Hotline every day after learning that his aunt's home lost heat and power, asking someone to rescue his aunt. 

With snow piled high and hundreds of rescue missions already underway, it was days before anyone could approach Avenatti's home. Eventually, her neighbor was able to make their way inside, where they found her dead. 

"We got the coroner's report, and it said natural causes, because they really don't know what happened, "said Fosson and his wife. "We suspect it was because of the prolonged exposure to the cold."

She is being remembered as a fiercely independent, feisty lady who loved camping, traveling and making friends. Her final wish was to live out her live in her home. 

"I guess I can tell you she's safely home now," Fosson said.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department announced that at least one person died in a car crash because of the severe storm that brought a historic amount of snowfall to the area.

The family of 93-year-old Dolly Avenatti said she was fiercely independent, charitable and ecology-minded.  Maggie Fosson

Another 11 people died during the storm but were not storm-related since they were already under medical care, according to the department. 

It is unclear if Avenatti is included in the Sheriff's figures but her family claims the only medical condition she suffered from was memory loss. The family also said that they called the County's Office of Emergency Services to check on her and rescue her if needed, but no help ever arrived.

The residents continued to reel from the disastrous situation in the San Bernardino mountains which prompted a response from multiple agencies such as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection as well as the state's national guard. 

While the local government seemed to struggle to rescue people besieged in the snow, it appears that the influx of resources from volunteers, state government and military have helped the relief efforts. According to the county, 90% of the roads in the area have been cleared of the several feet of snow, with many areas seeing 100% of their roads cleared.

But after being stranded for weeks, mountain residents took matters into their own hands to help their neighbors. 

"I've been getting more texts than I can count," said Crestline resident Christopher Woodbridge.

"There's like 150 calls up in Cedarpines Park," added Valley of Enchantment resident Zachary Pardee. 

Both are some of the unsung heroes of this unprecedented snowstorm helping their neighbors feel a little safer during this emergency.

"A lot of people don't feel safe right now," said Pardee. 

The pair rented a loader last week and have worked up to 18 hours a day to help wherever they can.

"Moving everybody's berms, digging cars out, clearing roads, clearing paths, helping people get out of their homes," said Woodbridge as he listed the numerous tasks they've tackled.

As the snow melts and as crews clear the roads, the damage from the storm became more evident — especially in Crestline. A handful of businesses had massive holes in the roofs caused by the weight of the snow and falling trees. Many residents said they've seen more help arriving this week. 

"I think the county's doing the best they can it's just hard because there's nowhere to put the snow," said Pardee.

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