Strongest earthquake in years rattles Southern California; damage reported
The largest earthquake in two decades rattled Southern California Thursday morning, shaking communities from Las Vegas to Long Beach and ending a quiet period in the state’s seismic history.
Striking at 10:33 a.m., the 6.4 magnitude temblor was centered about 125 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the remote Searles Valley area of Kern County.
There were no immediate reports of fatalities, though authorities in the city of Ridgecrest were responding to dozens of calls for help. The Kern County Fire Department said on Twitter that there were requests “ranging from medical assistance to structure fires.”
There were reports on social media of problems at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital. Reached by phone, Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden said authorities were in the process of assessing the hospital in the city, a community of about 29,000 known to many skiers as a pits top on the way to Mammoth.
Breeden said she had no information about deaths or injuries, but the situation was in flux.
“It’s a little crazy here right now,” she said before quickly ending the call.
The quake was the largest with an epicenter in Southern California since the 7.1 Hector Mine quake struck the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base in 1999. The last earthquake felt as widely as Thursday’s was the magnitude 7.2 earthquake on Easter Sunday 2010 that had an epicenter across the border in Baja California.
Before Thursday, it had been almost five years since the state experienced an earthquake of magnitude 6 or stronger. Experts had said the period of calm was sure to end, and when it did it would likely bring destruction.
Early reports suggested that the sparsely populated location of the Searles Valley quake greatly mitigated the damage. A similar temblor in the Los Angeles basin, such as 1994’s 6.7 Northridge earthquake, would have undoubtedly meant deaths and severe property damage.
The rocking in Searles Valley began with an initial quake of 4.0 magnitude at 10:02 a.m. Seven minutes later, a 2.5 temblor struck. About 22 minutes later, a prolonged shaking began about five miles underground.
The quake hit as local children were putting on a Fourth of July performance at Burroughs High School in Ridgecrest, according to Vicki Siegel.
“The kids were crying and scared. And so I don’t know what kind of damage was done inside the building but we all got out,” she said. “They probably all have PTSD now.”
In rural Inyokern, about 10 miles from Ridgecrest, 72-year-old Virginia Henry was reading in her bedroom when it began. She lost power in her home, but was able to drive to Ridgecrest to check on her toy and game store.
“Everything is fine. A lot of businesses are open,” Henry said.
In L.A., residents said the quake had a rolling quality that lasted for more than a minute — long enough for many to pull out cell phones and document swinging chandeliers and sloshing swimming pools.
Cynthia Alvarez, who was at work at a hotel in El Segundo when the quake happened, said the swaying made her dizzy.
“It wouldn’t stop. It just kept feeling like you were in a boat,” Alvarez said.
By 12:30 p.m. more than 65 aftershocks had been recorded, including three that registered above magnitude 4.5.
Caltech seismologist Lucy Jones, California’s foremost earthquake expert, said that aftershocks will continue to rumble through Kern County, and there is a small chance that the quake was a “foreshock” of an even greater temblor to come.
“There is about a 1 in 20 chance that this location will be having an even bigger earthquake in the next few days, and that we have not yet seen the biggest earthquake of the sequence,” she said. “We should always be preparing for the big one.”
The U.S. Geological Survey is dispatching geologists to Kern County look for a surface rupture and gather other data.
The area that ruptured occurred in an area of faults slightly east of the Sierra Nevada. The Little Lake fault is one of them, and last went through a magnitude 6 earthquake in 1984, Caltech seismologist Egill Hauksson said.
The earthquake was centered roughly 80 miles northeast of a stretch of the 106-year-old Los Angeles Aqueduct spanning the San Andreas fault.
“Aqueduct personnel have been deployed as part of our standard earthquake response protocols to inspect the aqueduct and reservoirs,” said Joe Ramallo, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and
Power. “In the city, critical facilities are also being checked.”
“There is no information nor reports of damage at this time,” he said.
Ivan Amerson, 35, was eating lunch with his family in the isolated town of Trona when the quake hit.
“It was kind of an odd earthquake because you could hear it coming,” he said.
Afterward, the town became a chaotic scene, Amerson said. There was no power, a chemical plant that operates in town shut its doors abruptly and citizens, including Amerson, began packing up to leave.
He said he was headed to his father’s house in Costa Mesa.
“We’re going to the beach,” he said. “It’s a good time not to be inland.”