WILLITS, 2/24/23 — Both residents and travelers along U.S. Highway 101 remain stuck this afternoon, as the highway closure stretching from north of Willits to Garberville remains closed after snowy conditions, spinouts, fallen trees and collisions led to a shutdown at just after 6 p.m. Thursday evening. There is currently no estimated time for reopening.
Although a number of vehicles were already stranded due to wintry road conditions, including semi-trucks, the highway closure left dozens of people seeking shelter in the storm. An additional closure stranded passengers on State Route 1, south of the junction with Highway 101. Those who were able to packed the few open hotel and motels. An emergency shelter opened at Healthy Start in Laytonville, as well as one at the Mateel Community Center in Garberville, while residents offered spare rooms on social media.
The closure includes the highest elevation point on the road: Rattlesnake Summit, north of Laytonville at 2,051 feet, which was the location of at least one collision on Thursday. Those seeking a detour, if traveling from Willits to Eureka, will need to take State Route 20 to U.S. Highway 5 to State 299 — but know that all are also experiencing storm impacts.
Freezing temperatures are expected over the next several days, and another winter storm system is anticipated, albeit at somewhat higher elevations, starting Sunday. As of 4:45 p.m, there are currently 1134 PG&E customers still without power in the Laytonville area, and hundreds more across the county,
Officer Lopez, at the California Highway Patrol (CHP) office in Garberville, said that there is still no estimated time of reopening, because crews must first access stranded vehicles and clear trees, many of which have fallen down around power lines. He explained that PG&E as well as communications companies had crews on the scene, and that “everybody is trying to work together.”
CHP is also still working on the closure of State Route 1, and Lopez said that crews were still assessing whether smaller portions of that road or of Highway 101 could be opened sooner.
Lopez said that the agency’s priority has been clearing the road to get vehicles out that were stranded overnight, and that work has almost been completed: as of 2:30 p.m. on Friday, road crews are finishing escorting people out who may have been stuck. “Now those resources can go towards clearing the roads,” he said.
Lopez emphasized that the road closure is not solely due to snow on the roads, but rather the impacts of the storm, noting the significant number of fallen trees and downed power lines that remain. He asked that people “sit tight if they are able,” and that despite the snow slowing, that the hard closure remains in place because road conditions continue to be dangerous.
In an email to The Voice, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office’s Captain Gregory Van Patten said the agency had “deployed two of our Search & Rescue (SAR) Deputy Sheriff Liaisons to assist with the rescue of several stranded motorists on Highway 1,” at the request of CHP, and that “the SAR Liaisons will be using a snow tracked side-by-side vehicle (UTV) to assist with the rescue efforts.”
Jayma Shields Spence, of Laytonville’s Healthy Start, has been operating an informal community shelter since Thursday evening, when she was contacted by Sue Carberry from Laytonville Fire as she returned from Ukiah. She said she volunteered the use of the Healthy Start office over Harwood Hall, because, she said, the hall can get “colder than outside.”
“I agreed we would open for a few hours and at least get people out of the cold and let them use our Wi-Fi and power to charge phones. Well, we’re still here!” she wrote in an email Friday afternoon, although she noted that the phones were now down due to an outage.
Shields Spence said she found cots, made spaghetti for dinner and coffee in the morning before the space lost power around 9 a.m. Friday, and that most of the visitors had been traveling north to Humboldt County.
“We hosted about 20 people who slept in my office and have been hanging out waiting for the highway to reopen. We are at capacity, and our resources are really limited,” she said, saying she hasn’t had any official county support. “So, I’m just hoping the power comes on soon and the road opens up.”
County spokesperson Heather Correll-Rose told The Voice that the county did not currently have plans to open emergency shelters as of Friday afternoon, but would watch storm conditions and notify the public promptly should shelters open. She encouraged residents to keep abreast of conditions and closures via MendoReady.org.
Helen, the owner at Royal Tree Motel in Leggett, is currently in San Francisco and has struggled to reach her husband and son, who are managing the motel. Because the motel is without cell reception and has been without power since Thursday afternoon, calls are forwarding to her. She has been attempting to negotiate the needs of people stranded traveling through northern Mendocino County amid the Highway 101 closure.
“I’ve been telling people, ‘Just go there and you probably can park there. If you want to use the bathroom, you’re allowed to use it,’” she said.
The motel is fully occupied, but Helen has tried to accommodate older residents where possible, including suggesting that they ask about sharing some multi-room units to get out of the cold.
“A lot of trees are down, and the power lines are down,” she said, having been able to reach a Leggett neighbor that morning.
Third District Supervisor John Haschak shared that PG&E is offering discounts for “customers who are experiencing extended outages due to the series of winter storms impacting Northern and Central California,” included below.
IHG Discount (Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites. To book go to www.IHG.com, Use discount corporate code 787065960 when booking online. Discount: 14% off the Best Flexible Rate for all hotels in PG&E’s service area.
Wyndham Discount (La Quinta, Days Inn, Super 8, Ramada, Howard Johnson, Travelodge, Microtel, Hawthorn Suites, Wyndham), To book go to www.wyndhamhotels.com, Use discount corporate code 8000002934 when booking online. Discount: 15% off the Best Available Rate for all hotels in PG&E’s service area.
Choice Discount (Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Econolodge, Clarion) To book go to www.choicehotels.com Use discount corporate code 00977150 when booking online. Discount: 20% off the Best Available Rate for all hotels in PG&E’s service area
Hyatt Discount (Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House) To book go to www.hyatt.com Use discount corporate code 180172 when booking online. Discount: 10% off the Published Rate for all hotels in PG&E’s service area.
Sonesta (Sonesta Suites)To book go to www.sonesta.com Use discount corporate code PGESGP when booking online. Discount: 12% off t