Two days of intermittent shaking punctuated by the most significant earthquakes California has seen in years have left residents “scared to death."
The epicenter was in a remote area about 10 miles northeast of Ridgecrest, Calif., a city of 28,000 that had already declared a state of emergency after a nearby 6.4-magnitude tremblor hit on Thursday. Its residents, startled from the first quake, were jolted into a new level of anxiety by Friday’s severe follow-up, and a persistent “swarm” of aftershocks is expected to torment them for days, if not weeks.
“We’re pretty much scared to death,” said Nancy Pace, 66, who runs the Bake My Day pastry business and feared another large quake could hit at “any second."
“The whole town is definitely on edge,” she told The Washington Post on Saturday. "We’re all really struggling with that. We’re grateful we don’t have a massive disaster yet, but we’re dealing with our own feelings of being scared.”
Pace and her roommate “were getting slammed back and forth between the walls” during the earthquake Friday night — one of the biggest in California history — and had been so afraid of her home collapsing from a subsequent quake that they slept outside on air mattresses along with their neighbors. But it was far from a restful sleep.
“Every time I tried to doze off we had another earthquake," she said.
Friday night’s earthquake was 11 times stronger than the original disturbance, and U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Paul Caruso said the region could expect to feel stronger aftershocks as a result. It was part of a “swarm” of earthquakes that had hit the region, located west of the Mojave Desert. Because it was larger than the 6.4 earthquake that struck Thursday, Friday’s quake would be considered the main shock, Caruso said.
More could be on the way. Lucy Jones, a prominent California seismologist, tweeted that aftershocks in the 5- to 6-magnitude range could be expected and that the earthquake had a 1-in-20 chance of “being followed by something even bigger."
The small desert communities have struggled to find their footing on Saturday. Their more sizable neighbors to the south have kept a wary eye on the disturbances in the desert, wondering if they will be next.
In Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood, 25-year-old Miguel Fuentes said he felt both Thursday’s and Friday’s quakes, and they did not bother him. But considering the possibility of a bigger quake made Fuentes pause.
“Well, maybe I am worried about the big one,” he said. “It is something to think about for sure.”
Los Angeles residents took to social media after the earthquakes to complain that the new ShakeAlertLA app had yet to send out a single alert. The tool — part of a larger system built by USGS that went online Dec. 31 — was designed to send out messages when a “potentially damaging” level of shaking is expected in a certain area.
City officials said the threshold for triggering alerts may have been set too high, and are considering notifying users of earthquakes of lower magnitude.
In Las Vegas, hundreds of miles east of the epicenter, the Friday earthquake only briefly disrupted the World Series of Poker main event.
Of the 5,000 people playing at the time, “fewer than 50” got up and ran out of the tournament room, said Seth Palansky, who handles communications for the event. “People were taking selfies, getting on their phones," he said.
Dan Addelman was visiting Las Vegas from England, having dinner on the 56th floor of the Palms casino when the second earthquake hit.
“My first thought being that high up was do we evacuate?” he said. “The building was swaying. It got more and more severe as the chandeliers started to shake.”
Addelman said he felt an aftershock 10 or 15 minutes later. “It was one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had,” he said.
The scale of damage has not approached the kind of catastrophic toll of earthquakes that have hit more populous parts of the state. The 6.7-magnitude Northridge Earthquake, which struck Los Angeles in 1994, killed 57 people and caused billions in damage.
No fatalities had been reported in Kern County, where Ridgecrest is located, county Fire Chief David Witt said in a Saturday morning briefing.
But damage had indeed been done. Initial reports indicated the damage from Friday was more significant than the previous day’s earthquake, emergency officials said. The earthquake caused multiple structure fires, thousands of power outages, road ruptures and water and gas leaks.
In Trona, a tiny town in nearby San Bernardino county, locals had to contend with intermittent blackouts and disrupted water service, according to county fire department spokesperson Eric Sherwin. Fire department personnel along with inspectors from the state’s power and gas utilities were performing additional checks on the area’s buildings to make sure an undetected gas leak did not rupture into a conflagration, he said.
Several Trona homes were in shambles, the Los Angeles Times reported, and authorities have advised residents who did still have running water to boil it before use.
When Cheri Herbstreit came to work at Trona Industrial Supply on Saturday morning, she was greeted by a major mess.
“It took us five hours this morning to go aisle by aisle by aisle to clean it all up,” she told The Washington Post.
More than 100 personnel from Los Angeles, Fresno, San Bernardino counties and elsewhere had been dispatched to the area to assist with cleanup, damage assessment, and medical emergencies, Mark Ghilarducci, director of the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said at a Friday evening news conference. Agencies such as the state’s Office of Emergency Services, the California National Guard, and the American Red Cross were also on site in Ridgecrest, Trona, and elsewhere.
About 2,000 customers in Kern County and another 3,000 in San Bernardino and Inyo counties had initially lost power after the earthquake Friday night, but service had been restored to nearly all customers, Southern California Edison spokeswoman Sally Jeun said Saturday.
Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake was “not mission capable until further notice,” and nonessential personnel were authorized to evacuate to the surrounding area, the base announced on Facebook without providing further details on the damage sustained.
State authorities were already responding to assist in recovery from Thursday’s quake in Kern County. On Saturday morning, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency for neighboring San Bernardino County, due to “widespread and significant damage,” according to his proclamation. His office has requested a Presidential Emergency Declaration from the White House and FEMA for direct federal assistance for Ridgecrest and other impacted communities.
Newsom told reporters later Saturday that President Trump had called him and pledged to help the support the state’s rebuilding efforts, according to the Associated Press.
The series of earthquakes and aftershocks has made it nearly impossible to conduct any semblance of normal life in the region.
At Ewings restaurant in Kernville, about 60 miles west of the epicenter, the Friday night earthquake caused the lights to go out and the 100 or so patrons inside to go quiet. When the shaking didn’t stop, everyone made a beeline for the door, wait staff included.
When a party of about 45 fled into the parking lot, Ewings’s owner, Neal Preston worried about an unsettled bill, but one of them assured him while running past that he’d paid. Over the next couple of hours, about a half-dozen aftershocks jolted the restaurant, causing bottles and dishes to rattle.
“This is getting annoying,” a waiter was overheard saying as the building swayed.
Rob Kuznia in Kernville, Calif., William Dauber in Los Angeles and Dan Michalski in Las Vegas contributed to this report.