LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - With snowbanks towering more than a story high and blizzard conditions making driving difficult, there are plenty of Christmas holiday travelers who haven't been able to leave the Sierra and find their way home.
Interstate 80 had been closed since Saturday from the town of Colfax to the Nevada state line. By Tuesday night, that stretch had reopened in both directions essential commercial trucks and vehicles only.
Caltrans crews have been busy at work trying to clear off the roadways as snow keeps falling in Northern California – the snowiest December on record. As of Tuesday, the Donner Lake area had received nearly 17 feet of snow this month. PG&E outages have only made the work harder.
"I got here yesterday, just got stuck and went through every possible route but no luck," said one man pumping gas at a station. "I just got to stick it out."
Some visitors vacationing at Lake Tahoe said there is so much snow, it's higher than the height of their cars and it's been tough digging themselves out.
Mercie Galvin and her neighbors in Donner Lake spent Monday morning helping friends who couldn’t get home, using snow blowers and clearing walkways.
"It's rough because when you come home to this many feet of snow, it's days and days of digging out," Galvin told Sacramento-station KCRA.
Living in the Sierra for almost 30 years, Galvin has survived many snow storms.
"Storms like this cause major obstacles," Galvin said. "But those of us that have been here a long time, we've got everything we need. We're prepared."
In another part of the Sierra, a Carmichael couple was stranded in South Lake Tahoe after a holiday trip.
"We came here Friday morning and were supposed to leave yesterday," Lyubov Chernychko told KCRA.
He worked with family members to help at least 20 cars that were stuck in the snow on nearby roads.
"We don't have [anything] to do inside," said Alex Chernychko. "We have to help people and they appreciate it."
Heavy snow will start winding down by Monday evening in California’s Sierra Nevada and the area is expected to get a break from the cold snap by Thursday, said Emily Heller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.