RIDGECREST, Calif. — Shaken residents are cleaning up from two of the biggest earthquakes to rattle California in decades as scientists warn that both should serve as a wake-up call to be ready when the long-dreaded “Big One” strikes.
California is spending more than $16 million to install thousands of quake-detecting sensors statewide that officials say will give utilities and trains precious seconds to shut down before the shaking starts.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said it’s time residents did their part by mapping out emergency escape routes and preparing earthquake kits with food, water, lights and other necessities.
“It is a wake-up call for the rest of the state and other parts of the nation, frankly,” Newsom said at a Saturday news conference on efforts to help a desert region jolted by back-to-back quakes.
A magnitude 6.4 earthquake Thursday and a magnitude 7.1 quake Friday were centered 11 miles from the small desert town of Ridgecrest, about 150 miles from Los Angeles.
The quakes buckled highways and ruptured gas lines that sparked several house fires, and officials said about 50 homes in the nearby small town of Trona were damaged. No one was killed or seriously injured, which authorities attributed to the remote location in the Mojave Desert.
“Any time that we can go through a 7-point earthquake and we do not report a fatality, a major injury, do not suffer structure damage that was significant, I want to say that that was a blessing and a miracle,” Kern County Fire Department spokesman Andrew Freeborn said Sunday.
Seismologists said a similar-sized quake in a major city like San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego could collapse bridges, buildings and freeways, as well as spark devastating fires fueled by ruptured gas lines.
“We’re going to have a magnitude 6, on average, somewhere in Southern California every few years. We’ve actually gone 20 years without one, so we have had the quietest 20 years in the history of Southern California,” said seismologist Lucy Jones of the California Institute of Technology.
“That’s unlikely to continue on the long run,” she added. “Geology keeps on moving … and we should be expecting a higher rate. And when it happens near people, it is going to be a lot worse.”
Thus the need for preparation, Newsom and others say.
Some Californians, like Greg Messigian of Los Angeles, say they’re already taking precautions.
His wake-up call came with the 1994 Northridge earthquake that killed 61 people and caused $15 billion in damage.
His San Fernando Valley home, located just above the fault line, was all but destroyed.
“We had brick walls around the perimeter that had all fallen down. We had cracks in the pool. Inside the house everything that we ever had on a shelf was broken. Television sets fell off the places where they were and cracked. Our chimney was broken. There were cracks in the walls.”
With the help of earthquake insurance, he rebuilt.
On Sunday, the retired schoolteacher was going over his preparedness kit, making sure he had everything he would need for the next quake.