Earthquakes leave family’s future on shaky ground: ‘It’s just been a lot’

Members of the Witcher family clean up in Trona, Calif., after last week’s earthquakes.
(Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio / Los Angeles Times)

On Saturday afternoon, a family of five was seeking shelter from the scorching Trona, Calif., sun under one of the lone patches of shade that could be found in the town.

They had slept in their cars by the churchyard Friday night and weren’t planning on returning to their house until a couple of days had passed.

Their home had not suffered immense structural damage, but it was impossible to walk through the hallways, the entrances to the rooms were blocked, and the floor was littered with toys, food, plates and everything else that had fallen out of cabinets and off the walls.

Full coverage: 2nd major quake in two days hits Southern California »


When the magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Friday, they said, there was nothing they could do — not even hide under a table.

“My mother is in a wheelchair,” said Cynthia Thompson, 43. “So we just stood still, we couldn’t move.”

Thompson’s father recently had a bone marrow transplant to treat his bone cancer, and he wasn’t physically able to maneuver his way to safety either.

During the earthquake, Thompson didn’t want to leave her parents alone in the house — but she did send her 8-year-old daughter, Brooke, out the window.

“It was really scary,” Brooke said. “I thought I was going to die.” In front of them was a deflated air mattress, which some of them planned to sleep on outside that night.

The Thompson family suffered no major injuries, but they are scarred and overwhelmed by having to clean everything they had accumulated over the decades living together.

Others in the neighborhood were doing the same. Thompson and her father drove back to her house, along with Brooke, leaving the rest of their family back in the shade.

They wanted to take a look, once again, at the damage.

On the way, they ran into their neighbors — Susan Witcher and ten other family members were cleaning up their own house.

The Witcher family could not stay in their home. Their chimney had collapsed and fissures lined the walls and roof of their home.

They were scared their home could crash down at any moment — it was time to go.

“I have lived here for 35 years,” said Susan Witcher, 67, as she carried out boxes of kitchenware to her truck. “And I just had to throw away 45 years’ worth of stuff. We don’t know if we will ever be able to move back in.”

They family was headed to her father’s house for the time being.

Thompson chatted with the Witcher family, then made her way to her own house around the corner. In her home, the TV lay face down on the floor, broken china glasses were easy to step on, and sinkholes had formed by the outside walls of the house.

“Currently, it looks like a tornado just hit,” Thompson said. Brooke pointed to the aperture through which she made her escape during the earthquake. “I had to jump through the window,” she said, navigating through her toys and books strewn across the floor.

Thompson seemed exhausted.

She had been back and forth to Los Angeles to take her father to the hospital for the last several weeks and had been hoping to get some rest before the earthquake hit.

“It’s just been a lot,” she said, locking up the door to her house.