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Storms displace estimated 150 Yosemite employees. Some tell of dire conditions

Half Dome Village in Yosemite Valley.
Half Dome Village in Yosemite Valley. Fresno Bee file

An estimated 150 concessions workers in Yosemite National Park have been displaced from their employee housing due to damage from heavy snows in recent storms, the park reported Friday.

Spokesman Scott Gediman said Half Dome Village, formerly known as Curry Village, has closed due to the storms, which caused trees to topple under an estimated two to three feet of snow. Power lines were damaged, leading to a loss of power in the area.

In social media posts and emails to The Bee, employees detailed dire conditions shortly after the closures.

One Facebook post said some workers have had no access to any personal items. They’ve worn the same clothes, socks and underwear for days. They’ve been forced to room with strangers. Aramark, Yosemite’s concessionaire, originally housed them in lodges and fed them for free, but has now evicted them to make room for guests and begun charging for food.

These employees are still being asked to work, they said. This sometimes requires travel across Yosemite Valley with no access to personal or public transportation.

One employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, shared a cell phone video of a cabin two doors down from his bursting into flames after power lines fell on it and sparked.

Another employee noted on Facebook that some of these concerns, though not all, have been addressed by Yosemite staff in the last 24 hours.

Asking for donations

She asked for donations of socks, underwear, cooking supplies such as pots and pans, toiletries, waterproof coats and gloves, feminine hygiene products, snow shovels, clothing and tire chains. These can be mailed or delivered to 9001 Village Drive, Yosemite, CA 95389. Monetary donations are not being accepted.

Aramark spokesman David Freireich said Yosemite has been hit by an “unprecedented series of events,” including last summer’s Ferguson Fire, the government shutdown and now a heavy snowstorm.

“We’re providing impacted employees with accommodations until we determine it’s safe for them to return home,” he said. “The safety of our displaced employees is our highest priority and we are doing everything possible to assist them, including providing free food, rent-free housing, clothing and other essential items.”

When asked exactly where the employees are being housed and if they were in fact being charged for food, Freireich denied that employees were being asked to pay for their food. He said there was “safe housing in various locations throughout the park for all displaced employees.”

He said Aramark was doing all it could, including purchasing supplies for its displaced employees.

The storms, which raged from Monday to Wednesday, damaged about 60-70 employee and 50 visitor tent cabins.

No employees or visitors were reported injured.

Temporary housing

Gediman said the park is working with Aramark to bring in temporary housing for employees. There are also efforts to keep employees, some of whom have no access to kitchens or even their wallets, fed.

The park is not sure of the true extent of the damage, as many of the more remote locations are unreachable during heavy snows. Yosemite Ski & Snowboard area has been closed due to the storm.

Several roads into the park were already closed due to the season, but the storm forced the closure of Hetch Hetchy Road, as well.

Forecast

Another storm was expected to hit the area Friday night. Employees have been advised to stay indoors.

Carlos Molina, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford, said snow was expected to hit Yosemite Valley at around 9 or 10 p.m.

The previous storm dumped about six to eight inches of new snow on the Valley, Molina said. Friday’s storm was expected to dump even more, as the air cooled by the previous storm will lead to more snowfall. About six inches to one foot of new snow is anticipated before 4 p.m. Saturday, meaning the Valley could have more than four feet of sitting snow by that time.

Snow will continue after 4 p.m. Saturday, Molina said. Another three to six inches could land by 4 p.m. Sunday, which could leave up to five feet of sitting snow in Yosemite Valley – a highly unusual amount for its 4,000-foot elevation.

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Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.

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