For the second consecutive day, a major earthquake shook Southern California and was felt far beyond, stopping the NBA’s Summer League games in Las Vegas, forcing the evacuation of rides at Disneyland in Anaheim, and reminding residents that the state is always on unstable ground and destined for more.
It registered a magnitude of 7.1 on Friday night and was the strongest earthquake to hit the state in two decades, causing fires in the small town of Ridgecrest (population 29,000), and sending shock waves felt more than 300 miles away in all directions – Sacramento, Phoenix, Mexico.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake hit at 8:19 p.m., 11 miles north-northeast of Ridgecrest, near where a magnitude 6.4 quake hit Thursday morning, but was more shallow. It was followed by nearly 100 aftershocks, some of which were magnitude 4.0 or higher across the Searles Valley, an area straddling Inyo, Kern and San Bernardino counties.
Friday’s quake caused at least four structure fires, damage to roads and some minor injuries in Ridgecrest and the surrounding area, which was already trying to recover from the previous temblor.
“It’s hard for the world to know what we’ve been through,” Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin told reporters Saturday morning. “By the grace of God, we’ve had no causalities.”
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the state Office of Emergency Services, said at a Saturday news conference there were numerous reports in Ridgecrest of fires, mostly the result of gas leaks, but that damage to the area was minimal and there were no fatalities. Officials said there were injuries from “falling debris,” although they did not provide an exact number.
He said the hardest hit area was the town of Trona, 20 miles northeast of Ridgecrest in San Bernardino County. Officials were having a difficult time getting to the town of 1,500 people because of damaged roads, he said. Of most concern was the Searles Valley Minerals plant, the town’s main employer and a manufacturer of borax materials and other compounds used in cleansers, soaps and other industrial uses.
Power that was knocked out in the quake was restored in the Ridgecrest area, but Ghilarducci said electricity in Trona remained mostly out.
Also significantly affected was the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, a sprawling weapons facility near Ridgecrest, although details were sparse Saturday. “NAWS China Lake is not mission capable until further notice,” according to a Facebook post by naval base officials.
Officials were still working to assess the damage but were challenged by the area’s remoteness.
“We do feel like there is damage but we don’t know the extent of it yet,” Kern County Fire Chief David Witt said at the emergency operations center in Bakersfield. “Nobody was trapped, no major collapses that we know of. But we’re out there searching.”
Highway 178, the major highway through the area, suffered significant damage and was closed for several hours in and around the high desert communities, according to Caltrans. Rock slides had occurred in the canyon between Bakersfield and Lake Isabella, closing the highway there. Officials strongly urged motorists to avoid the Kern Canyon area on Saturday morning.
State officials said more than 100 mutual aid personnel were dispatched to the scene from Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Fresno counties, among others. Some were already in the area from Thursday’s quake and had been released shortly before Friday’s quake. The California National Guard said a joint task force was being deployed with about 200 security forces and military aircraft.
Ghilarducci said multiple state resources, as well as officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, were working to assist in disaster relief, noting that more earthquakes were expected.
“This is not something that’ll be over right away,” he said.
The severity of the quake was nearly twice the intensity of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake that struck in 1989, which killed 63 and damaged many structures in San Francisco, including the Bay Bridge.
Shaking was widely felt, though not as intense, in the Los Angeles area, about 110 miles from the epicenter. There were no reports of injuries or damage, city officials said.
The earthquake was felt in Sacramento, as well as Stockton and Marysville. The quake was felt as far east as Phoenix and south to Mexico, according to the USGS. In Las Vegas, NBA Summer League action was halted after the quake as speakers above the court swayed for more than 10 minutes at Thomas & Mack Center.
Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology and a former science adviser at USGS, said at a news conference Friday night that more strong earthquakes in this series of quakes were likely to happen in the next week.
“We’re having a robust sequence,” she said from the Caltech Seismological Laboratory in Pasadena. “There’s no reason to think it’s going to be stopping.”
Officials said that in the four hours after the shaking started, the fault area had four earthquakes greater than magnitude 5, 20 quakes in the magnitude 4 range and more than 50 quakes from 3.0 to 3.9. Jones said Friday’s 7.1 earthquake was triggered by Thursday’s quake, which scientists now considered a foreshock.
“These earthquakes are related,” she said, adding that the new quake probably ruptured along about 25 miles of fault line.
Jones and others scientists said more shaking was a certainty in the next week: “The chance of something over (magnitude) 6 is 50 percent.”
“It seems to be dying down a bit, but we have never seen a sequence like this suddenly stop,” she said. “But it’s far from unprecedented.”
“There’s a 5 percent chance that this could be followed by an even larger quake,” said Robert Graves, a USGS seismologist, also speaking at Friday’s news conference.
However, the quake was unlikely to affect fault lines or regions outside of the Ridgecrest area, Jones said, noting that the gigantic San Andreas Fault was far away.
“As you go away from distance, it becomes much less likely. it’s over a hundred miles (to) the San Andreas (fault line) from this location,” she said.
The nearest large city to feel the quake was Bakersfield, 100 miles to the west, where shaking went on for almost 30 seconds, according to some reports.
Garrett Pacheco, a firefighter who lives in the city’s southwest area, said he was dining out with his family when they felt the quake strike. He said the shaking lasted about 15 to 20 seconds at the restaurant, where the evening din turned quiet as lighting from above swayed for more than a minute.
“We felt it, definitely. Everybody felt it in the restaurant,” he said. “It was bigger one than the first one, we really felt this one.”
He and his wife, Cynthia, said that while everyone around town has been talking about Thursday’s first quake, not many people were taking it too seriously. They suspected that might change after Friday night.
“It’s kinda crazy. One thing about it, you start thinking, ‘Where was the epicenter and how bad was it?’” he said.
In declaring a state emergency for Kern and San Bernardino counties, Gov. Gavin Newsom said state resources, including the state OES, were monitoring the situation and assisting local emergency personnel.
“In response to another large earthquake in Southern California tonight, I have activated the ... state operation center to its highest level,” Newsom wrote in a Twitter post. “And the state is coordinating mutual aid to local first responders.”
Newsom said Saturday morning he asked for a presidential emergency declaration for federal money and resources.
More earthquakes had been expected after the July 4 quake in Ridgecrest was felt across a wide swath of Southern California. Hours earlier, seismologists had said that quake had been followed by more than 1,700 aftershocks and that they might continue for years.
“The potential for danger can’t be underestimated, and residents of Southern California must be prepared in case there are further, more dangerous quakes,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in prepared remarks.
Officials in Ridgecrest said as the assessment of their town continued, they were planning for the potential for another quake, as well as looters who may descend on the area.
McLaughlin, the city’s police chief, said there was a business where a “very expensive piece of equipment” was taken and a home that was burglarized.
The mayor of Ridgecrest, Peggy Breeden, urged her residents to stay on the lookout for crime and dangerous conditions around buildings.
“If you see something, say something,” she said.