For Ridgecrest, the ‘earthquake capital of the world,’ temblors shake but don’t break
Dan Tolbert, 62, spends time with his dogs as he and his wife, Ronnie, 60, prepare to bed down for the night on a pair of mattresses in front of their earthquake-damaged home in Trona on July 10. Their night was interrupted when a scorpion crawled on their mattresses and they ended up spending the night in their truck. “If we keep feeling tremors tomorrow we’ll be out here again,” Ronnie said.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Karen Byrd, 39, collects photo frames knocked off the wall at her home in Trona, Calif.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Ronnie Tolbert, left, delivers food to Robert VanHorn, 81, almost a week after a 7.1 earthquake near Trona.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Benny Eldridge, 76, looks at a quake-damaged room in his Trona home, which he helped build with his father-in-law in 1961. The house has been red-tagged.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Benny Eldridge, 76, and his wife, Anna Sue, 75, sit in front of their damaged home in Trona.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Joyce Harrison Moore, 72, looks out from her damaged home almost a week after a pair of earthquakes battered Trona. “This town will either die or get back on its feet,” Moore said.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Ronnie Tolbert stands beside her damaged fireplace.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Valerie Helton, 60, facing the camera, receives a hug of support from Ronnie Tolbert. Helton and her daughter Jessica Sizemore Helton, left, have refused to leave their home since last week’s quakes. “This is all I have,” said Sizemore Helton.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Ralph “Zeb” Haleman, 67, carries cases of water home Sunday in Trona, Calif., where residents were still without water and electricity was spotty after last week’s quakes.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Kay Byrd, 64, gives herself an insulin shot. Byrd and her family are camping outside in Trona, Calif., wary of returning home after major earthquakes.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Brooke Thompson, 8, plays on the sleeping bag that her family slept in after a pair of major earthquakes drove them out of their home in Trona, Calif.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
The Byrd family has breakfast next to where they spent the night under a salt cedar tree, afraid to return to their Trona, Calif., home of 21 years after major earthquakes.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Ronnie Tolbert, left, and her husband, Danny, sleep on mattresses in the front yard of their Trona home, which was damaged in a 7.1 magnitude earthquake.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The Horta family sleeps in the back of their pickup truck in a fire station parking lot in Trona as the sun rises hours after being forced from their home by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Kathy Vander Housen, 76 hugs her friend Claire Barker, 76, after Barker told her that she had found her two cats. Vander Housen’s mobile home in Trona had been yellow-tagged by county inspectors, but she did not want to leave without the cats, which had been hiding since the earthquake(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Buckled asphalt courses through a parking lot near Trona Rd. in Argus.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Sammy Chute cuddles Gerard as her family in Trona prepares to evacuate to Ridgecrest, abandoning their home that was knocked off its foundation during a 7.1 earthquake.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Charles Ware, 68, in his Trona front yard the morning after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake severely damaged his home. Ware said he invested all he had into this house two years ago, doesn’t have earthquake insurance and is afraid he may not be able to rebuild. He was on the phone with his brother in San Diego when the quake hit. “I got to ride it out with my brother,” he said.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A customer rummages for a six-pack of beer at a damaged Shell food mart in Trona the day after a 7.1 earthquake.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds of residents of Ridgecrest, Calif., and surrounding communities attend a town hall meeting at Kerr McGee Community Center about the response to recent major earthquakes.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Christian Fellowship of Trona congregants pray after holding a quick meeting on how to help other community members.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Kern County firemen tackle a fire on Saturday morning at Town and Country Mobile Home Park in Ridgcrest.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Jamie L. Acevedo sits outside her damaged Trona home, waiting to evacuate to Ridgecrest the morning after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake knocked her home off its foundation.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Gas station owner Roger Sandoval faces the possibility of having to shut his Trona business after a 7.1 earthquake apparently damaged the supply tanks near the pumps.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chavela Padilla, left, an emergency response team volunteer, walks with Ronnie Tolbert amid quake-toppled items in Tobert’s Trona home. The damage occurred in a 7.1 temblor hours earlier.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chavela Padilla, a Trona emergency response team volunteer, enters her car after checking on a neighbor as her two young boys, Joey, 8, right, and Jimmy, 5, sleep in the back seat at close to 3 a.m. The boys were too scared to be home after experiencing a 7.1 earthquake hours earlier.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chavela Padilla, right, an emergency response team member walks with Ronnie Tolbert amid quake-toppled items in Tolbert’s Trona home.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Brothers Joey, 8, right, and Jimmy Raya, 5, sleep in the back seat of their mother’s car in the parking lot of San Bernardino County Fire Station 57 in Trona after their home was damaged in a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hours earlier.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chavela Padilla, a Trona emergcency response team volunteer, assists her neighbor Alicia Marines, 72, who was injured while trying to escape her home during a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. Marines was evacuated to the local fire station. James Raya, Padilla’s husband and also a volunteer, looks on.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chavela Padilla, a Trona emergency response team volunteer, stands in the bloody footprints left by homeowner Alicia Marines, 72, who was injured during a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. Padilla volunteered to check on Marines’ residence and collect some fresh clothes.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Ronnie Tolbert sorts through toppled belongings in her Trona home, damaged in a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hours earlier.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The aftermath of Friday’s earthquake at a Ridgecrest liquor store.
(Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)
Work on Route 178 between Trona and Ridgecrest.(Etienne Laurent / EPA-EFE/REX )
Workers fill large holes left in Highway 178 between Trona and Ridgecrest by Friday night’s 7.1 earthquake.(Etienne Laurent / EPA-EFE/REX )
Highway workers repair roadway near Ridgecrest on Saturday morning.(Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images)
Police and emergency services respond to a fire at a building on Highway 178.(Etienne Laurent / EPA-EFE/REX )
Firefighters respond to a fire at a building on Highway 178 after Friday night’s earthquake near Ridgecrest.(Etienne Laurent / EPA-EFE/REX )
In Ridgecrest, Davia Speed and Peyton Speed, holding 1-month-old Lillian, get into their car after Friday night’s 7.1 earthquake.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A fire burns behind Casa Corona restaurant in Ridgecrest after Friday’s earthquake.(Jessica Weston / The Daily Independent/Associated Press)
After the earthquake hit Chuck Pryor’s Ridgecrest ranch home Friday night, sending wine glasses crashing to the floor, the lifelong Californian said he wasn’t going to budge.
“I have been through earthquakes my entire life,” said Pryor, 76. But he added that the magnitude 7.1 quake impressed him with its intensity: “It felt like Mother Nature had a bullwhip and cracked the whip at the end.”
For some who live in this small Mojave Desert town, where many work in mining or for the military, the second serious earthquake in two days felt like a sign.
“We’ve been wanting to get out of here anyhow,” said Matt Warren, a mine superintendent who has lived here with his wife for more than 20 years. “The time is right.”
During the shaking Friday night, he ran to the end of his driveway and clutched the stop sign until it passed. Then he watched cars blowing though stop signs in a rush to escape the neighborhood. He and his wife were afraid to go back inside their house.
“I bet we’ll be in the trailer tonight,” he said. “I’m on pins and needles.”
There were no deaths or serious injuries reported in the temblor, which was about 10 times larger than the one that struck on the Fourth of July. Still, the quake tipped buildings off their foundations, caused several gas leaks and fires, destroyed mobile homes and temporarily knocked out power in the area.
“We’re very lucky and happy there wasn’t anything worse,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Service.
Kathy Vander Houwen’s mobile home shifted more than a foot on its foundation, and the county yellow-tagged it. She knew that she would have to leave with her two cats, Snuggles and Frisky. She planned to stay with her best friend, but said she had no idea what she would do in the long term.
“This place is paid for,” said Vander Houwen, 76. “I’m too old to start over again.”
In Ridgecrest on Saturday, many businesses remained closed because of damage, including Rite Aid, Marshalls and Dollar Tree. At Denny’s, one of the few restaurants that was open, diners waited almost an hour for seats. At McDonald’s, a sign on the door said the restaurant was “serving first responders, police and fire department inside only.”
At the Best Western hotel, a note in the lobby asked customers for their patience. “Some staff members have lost their homes and are tending to their families,” the note read. “For that reason we are short staffed.”
By Friday night, Javaid Waseem, 45, had made real progress cleaning up the mess at his Ridgecrest convenience store from the 6.4 earthquake of the day before.
The unbroken wine bottles were back in place, the motor oil had been wiped away and the shelves were lined up once again inside the refrigerators. The 7.1 quake sent everything flying once again. This time, he said, “we lost a lot more.”
On Saturday morning, in between asking customers how they were doing, ringing up orders and surveying the damage, Waseem worried that yet another quake would strike.
“We can’t afford another one, but with Mother Nature we don’t know,” he said.
Ninfa Cazares, 32, was at home in Ridgecrest with her five children and the family dog Friday when the earthquake hit. She said they rushed outside, only to watch their house practically collapse upon itself.
The family spent the night at a Red Cross shelter but are considering taking their RV into the desert to camp. They fear another aftershock.
“I don’t know what to do,” Cazares said in Spanish. “Our whole house fell down…. We can’t live there.”
There were no initial reports of major damage in Los Angeles, more than 100 miles south of the epicenter. But in Trona, a town of about 1,900 people near Ridgecrest, the frequent aftershocks and anxiety about another big temblor made it hard to rest.
Many residents slept on the street in camper vans. Others, such as 60-year-old Ronnie Tolbert and her husband, pulled mattresses onto their frontyard to try to sleep. Her daughter rested in a truck parked on the street. Her grandson and his friends sprawled on mattresses across the road.
Before sunrise Saturday, she used a flashlight to find her way through her home of 32 years, a place where she has raised 11 children. Her fireplace had collapsed, ceiling tiles had fallen and windows had shattered.
“My kids keep asking me what am I gonna do,” Tolbert said. “I said, ‘I don’t know.’”
It has been two decades since residents of the Searles Valley felt such a big earthquake. A magnitude 5.8 quake rocked Ridgecrest, home to about 30,000 people, in 1995. A 7.1 quake struck about 100 miles to the southeast in 1999.
The high desert area once saw so many temblors that it was known as the earthquake capital of the world, said Caltech seismologist Egill Hauksson.
“This area is quite active, and has been quite active since we’ve had records,” Hauksson said Saturday. Given the size of the previous earthquakes, it’s likely that Los Angeles will still feel some shaking over the next week, Hauksson said.
Two earthquakes this week in rapid succession could make homes more prone to collapse in aftershocks, officials said Saturday. The first aftershock from the Friday night quake registered as a magnitude 5.5.
“Maybe it’s not a 7.1 next time, maybe it’s lower — and with that, there could be more damage because structures are weakened,” Kern County Fire Chief David Witt said at a Saturday morning news conference. “We need to be vigilant.”
Rockslides and cracks temporarily closed portions of Highways 178, 127 and 190. Caltrans crews worked through the night to open some lanes on all routes by Saturday morning.
The quake caused damage to a U.S. weapons testing facility outside Ridgecrest, the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, although details were sparse early Saturday. The 1.1-million-acre facility is the Navy’s largest, covering an area larger than Rhode Island.
Caltech seismologist Lucy Jones said she could not recall a pattern of earthquakes in California in which a 6.4 foreshock was followed by a 7.1 event, only to be followed by an even bigger quake. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, she cautioned.
“It is clearly a very energetic sequence, so there’s no reason to think we can’t have more large earthquakes,” she said.
Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden said she encourages residents to take safety precautions over the next few days until the seismic activity has subsided. She said the town shouldn’t suffer any long-term consequences from the last several days.
She doesn’t believe residents will flee to other cities.
“We’re used to this,” she said after a news conference. “We live in the earthquake capital of the world, so I’m told. Our people are strong.”
At the Trousdale Estates mobile home park in Ridgecrest, which was hard hit by the quake, resident Lori Churchill said she was wearing the same blue nightgown she had worn for two days and hadn’t slept more than a few hours here and there. Her mobile home had not been jarred from its foundation, but she worried what would happen if another quake hit.
“I’m walking around kind of like a zombie,” she said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials stopped by the mobile home park Saturday afternoon to assess the damage. Newsom asked Churchill and her companions where they would sleep that night.
“I don’t know,” she said.
Newsom mentioned the Red Cross shelter nearby. Churchill knew of the shelter but had not gone to it for fear it might collapse too.
“They’re waiting for this other earthquake to come,” she said. “If it comes, what does it matter if you’re at the Red Cross.”
Times staff writers Christopher Goffard and Laura J. Nelson contributed to this story.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.