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Strongest earthquake in 20 years hits Southern California

Frederic J. Brown, AFP | Vehicles drive over a crack on Highway 178 south of Trona, after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit in Ridgecrest, California, on July 4, 2019.
5 min

The strongest earthquake in 20 years shook a large swath of Southern California and parts of Nevada on Thursday.

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The 6.4 magnitude quake struck at 10.33 am Thursday in the Mojave Desert, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles, near the town of Ridgecrest, California.

Multiple injuries and two house fires were reported. Emergency crews are also dealing with vegetation fires, gas leaks and reports of cracked roads, Kern County Fire Chief David Witt told the press.

He added that 15 patients have been evacuated from the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital as a precaution and out of concern for aftershocks.

Residents were on Friday assessing the damage and cleaning up.

And it is likely not over yet. Aftershocks and temblors could be in store in the days ahead, seismologists said.

Concerns for patients in hospital

Kern County District Supervisor Mick Gleason told CNN there were some structural issues with the hospital and some patients had to be moved from one ward to another and that others were taken to a neighboring building.

Gleason did not say what the structural issues were.

Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden said that utility workers were assessing broken gas lines and turning off gas where necessary.

The local senior center was holding a July 4th event when the quake hit and everyone made it out -- shaken up -- but without injuries, she said.

“Oh, my goodness, there’s another one (quake) right now,” Breeden said while on live television as an aftershock struck.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Kern County. The declaration means that the state will help the county and municipalities in it with emergency aid and recovery efforts.

Trump said 'under control'

Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden praised Newsom for declaring the emergency. She also thanked other nearby local governments for offering to help with the recovery effort.

President Donald Trump said he was fully briefed on the earthquake and that it “all seems to be very much under control!”

Police and fire officials said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that they have enough resources so far to meet needs in the wake of the earthquake. Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin said at a news conference that “we have plenty of resources”.

California Highway Patrol Lt. John Williams says officials have found cracks on several roads in the county, but overpasses and underpasses are in good shape.

Locals in shock

A series of aftershocks included a 4.5 magnitude temblor, according to the United States Geological Survey.

“It almost gave me a heart attack,” said Cora Burke, a waitress at Midway Cafe in Ridgecrest, of the big jolt. “It’s just a rolling feeling inside the building, inside the cafe and all of a sudden everything started falling off the shelf, glasses, the refrigerator and everything in the small refrigerator fell over.”

A liquor store in Ridgecrest saw the aisles filled with broken wine and liquor bottles, knocked down boxes and other groceries strewn on the floor.

"I mopped up over 20 gallons (75 liters) of wine that fell over in addition to the beer, soda and the cooler that fell over. We have several thousand dollars worth of damage," said the shopkeeper James Wilhorn.

'Lots of aftershocks'

US Geological Survey (USGS) seismologist Lucy Jones said more than 80 aftershocks had hit the area in the hours since the initial quake.

"We should be expecting lots of aftershocks and some of them will be bigger than the 3s we've been having so far," Jones told a news conference. "I think the chance of having a magnitude 5...is probably greater than 50-50," she said.

Jones said that the 6.4 quake centered near the town of Ridgecrest was preceded by a magnitude 4.2 temblor about a half hour earlier.

She said vigorous aftershocks were occurring but striking in a remote areas.

'Death Valley'

People from Las Vegas to the Pacific Coast reported feeling a rolling motion and took to social media to report it. The quake hit the edge of Death Valley National Park about 113 miles northeast of Los Angeles on Thursday.

Local emergency agencies also took to social media to ask people to only call 911 for emergencies.

“We are very much aware of the significant earthquake that just occurred in Southern California. Please DO NOT call 9-1-1 unless there are injuries or other dangerous conditions. Don’t call for questions please,” the LAPD said in a statement published on Twitter.

There were no reports of serious damage or injuries in Los Angeles, the department said.

The quake was detected by California’s new ShakeAlert system and it provided 48 seconds of warning to the seismology lab well before the shaking arrived at Caltech in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena but it did not trigger a public warning through an app recently made available in Los Angeles County.

Earthquake country

USGS seismologist Robert Graves said the ShakeAlert system worked properly.

Graves said it calculated an intensity level for the Los Angeles area that was below the threshold for a public alert. The limits are intended to avoid false alarms.

Glenn Pomeroy, the head of California’s Earthquake Authority, said the earthquake is “an important reminder that all of California is earthquake country”.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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