Last Sunday, Riley Ramirez and Cole White were dropped off for what was supposed to be a 10-day hike through part of the Pacific Crest Trail. The 17-year-old boys were experienced hikers, but were ill-prepared for the late February snowstorm about to slam into the Southern California mountains, burying some areas in up to seven feet of snow.

“They knew there was weather. But I don’t think they expected the amount,” San Bernardino County sheriff’s Sgt. John Scalise told the Associated Press.

The boys’ family lost contact with them a few days into the hike, and Ramirez’s alarmed father alerted the sheriff’s department, Scalise said. A search and rescue operation was launched, with a helicopter crew eventually spotting the pair along a remote section of the trail near San Gorgonio Mountain, the highest peak in Southern California.

By the time the teenagers were found, slightly hypothermic but alive, their tent was broken and Riley had lost his jacket, his father, Cesar Ramirez, told the AP. “They’ve told us, ‘We were already convinced we were going to die.’”

The pair survived the ordeal by huddling together for warmth through three harrowing nights, authorities said.

The recent storms that battered and half-buried Southern California’s mountain communities left roads closed, roofs collapsed, and residents trapped in their homes. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency across 13 counties, including San Bernardino, to help authorities that were working into the weekend to clear the roads, rescue the stranded, and distribute survival supplies.

“If you planned on visiting our local mountains for fun this weekend, please reconsider your plans,” the sheriff’s department tweeted.

The slow response from authorities hampered by the treacherous conditions has frustrated increasingly desperate residents. Aerial footage shot by ABC7 Los Angeles on Friday captured a large message written in the snow: “HELP US!!”

“People are panicking left and right. We’ve had roofs starting to cave in. Houses are blowing up because of gas leaks and catching on fire. And these are real things that are happening here,” a Lake Arrowhead resident told FOX 11 on Friday.

Over seven days, Lake Arrowhead saw a snowfall total of 109 inches; the community’s yearly average usually totals around 22 inches. The San Bernardino County Fire Department has received seven fire calls in the last week and more than 70 reports of gas leaks, its battalion chief told the Los Angeles Times. One fire after a gas leak caused an explosion landed two people in the hospital and killed their cat on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the couple said.

“This is real and this is scary,” another resident told the Times on Thursday. “I just don’t think people realize how bad it is. This is catastrophic up here.”

A winter storm warning in the area remains in effect through early Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

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