Newsletter: Essential California: Largest earthquake in two decades shakes Southern California

Earthquake aftermath in Ridgecrest, California, USA - 04 Jul 2019
A crack in the road after the earthquake near Ridgecrest.
(Etienne Laurent EPA/Shutterstock)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, July 5, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Did you feel the earthquake?

The largest temblor in two decades shook Southern California just after 10:30 a.m. Thursday, rattling homes across a wide swath of the state. The magnitude 6.4 quake was centered about 125 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the remote Searles Valley area near where Inyo, San Bernardino and Kern counties meet. The shaking was felt from Long Beach to Fresno and many parts in between.

I was on the phone with a friend in my still-unmoving apartment when he suddenly said “earthquake.” A few seconds later, everything started to sway.


Like any child of California, I am expertly versed in the art of drop and cover. But the elementary school earthquake-drill muscle memory remains so strong that I found myself improbably scanning my Koreatown living room for a child-sized desk to crawl under, and staring at a doorway, trying to remember whether that safety tip had long since been disproven. (It has, so don’t head there.)

In rural Inyokern — 10 miles from Ridgecrest, and about 20 miles from the epicenter of the quake — Virginia Henry was reading in her bookcase-filled bedroom when the shaking started. The 72-year-old toy-store owner immediately thought of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which she’d also experienced. That magnitude 6.9 quake in the Bay Area killed 63 people.

Remembering how her husband had been knocked out by falling bookcases in the 1989 quake, Henry retreated from her bookcase-filled bedroom to her closet. “I immediately thought, ‘I probably shouldn’t be sitting there.’ ” Although the power and the Wi-Fi went out in Inyokern, Henry said her home appeared to have weathered the earthquake without damage.

Cleanup continues at Eastridge Market hours after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the area.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)


In southwest Bakersfield, Emma Gallegos stared as all her kitchen windows started to rattle. “It was surreal,” she said.

Hanging lights swung back and forth in a Fresno newsroom, just as they did in a Long Beach Denny’s restaurant where a father and son were eating breakfast more than 200 miles to the south. Residents as far north as Sacramento felt the shaking.

In Los Angeles, more than 100 miles from the epicenter, the gentle rolling continued for an improbably long time. Long enough to feel your heart go fast with fear, voice your terror, double back with dark jokes and still have time to calmly remove a visibly swaying vase from a stack of books before the ground went still. Or 20 to 30 seconds, according to many reports.

A state of emergency has been declared in Ridgecrest, and by midafternoon the Kern County Fire Department had responded to nearly two dozen incidents incidents ranging from structure fires to medical assistance. The full extent of the damage is not yet known.

But we do know that the damage and human toll could have been immensely, heart-wrenchingly worse had a similar seismic event occurred in a more densely populated, urban area.

In California — where, through accidents of birth or the pursuit of dreams, many of us have chosen to make our lives — it will always be a question not of if, but when. You don’t need me to tell you that we live in earthquake country, or that any illusion of victory over nature is a purchase on loan.

All we can do is prepare. Please, if you haven’t already, make sure that you and your family have an earthquake plan. Get an emergency kit together, keep a pair of sneakers under your bed and know how and what you’ll do when the next Big One comes.

More on the earthquake:


Expect more earthquakes, possibly even stronger ones, seismologists have warned. There is about a 1 in 20 chance that this location will be having an even bigger earthquake in the next few days. Los Angeles Times

Why didn’t L.A.’s early warning system send an alert before the magnitude 6.4 quake? The system actually worked as it was supposed to, but it was only designed to alert users of cellphones physically located in Los Angeles County if there was at least “light shaking,” or level 4 on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale, expected for Los Angeles County. What was actually felt Thursday in Los Angeles County, while seemingly scary, was actually not that bad — either level 2 or level 3 shaking, or “weak shaking.” Los Angeles Times

From the archives: Get ready for a major quake. What to do before — and during — a big one. Los Angeles Times

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Get the Essential California newsletter »


A rolling gun battle between Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and the occupants of an armored Cadillac SUV roared through Compton and Inglewood on Wednesday night, leaving one man dead and a deputy wounded. Los Angeles Times

Music and movie mogul David Geffen has paid $30 million for an empty one-acre lot in the “Billionaires Row” enclave of Beverly Hills. (Note: “Billionaires Row” is not to be confused with the one-mile section of Malibu coastline known as “Billionaires Beach,” though Geffen does also have a house there.) Los Angeles Times


Extremely sought-after NBA free agent Kawhi Leonard appears to have completed his free-agency meetings with the Lakers, Clippers and Raptors, who now must wait for his decision. Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Immigrant detainees in the Yuba County jail have refused food for four days in the facility’s third hunger strike in 10 months. They are striking to demand better medical attention, among other things. Sacramento Bee


San Francisco has launched a sweeping review of the city’s complex patchwork of business taxes. San Francisco Chronicle

An Orange County assemblyman has apologized for sending offensive political mailers that depicted his opponent using anti-Semitic tropes. Los Angeles Times


Hate crimes targeting Jews and Latinos increased in California in 2018, according to a new report. Los Angeles Times

USC agreed this week to pay the University of California $50 million and apologize for tactics used to poach a star Alzheimer’s researcher from the public university’s San Diego campus. The agreement resolves a bitter feud between two of the state’s academic titans. Los Angeles Times


Five California doctors are now under investigation over student vaccine exemptions. These investigations come amid the worst measles outbreak in decades and a contentious California political fight over student vaccine requirements. Mercury News

Potentially toxic algae blooms threaten a lake known as the “gem of Chico,” and 10 other waterways in the greater Sacramento area. Sacramento Bee

A spectacular 17-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail has been permanently protected in a land deal. The PCT, as it’s known, is a hiking route that extends from Mexico to Canada. The stretch of land in question is in the mountains west of Mount Shasta in California’s far north. San Francisco Chronicle


The George and Millie Ablin House in Bakersfield, shown in 2004, is one of five Frank Lloyd Wright homes that will open to the public for a fundraising tour.
(Los Angeles Times)

Five private Frank Lloyd Wright homes will offer tours to the public this month as part of a fundraiser. These residences are rarely open to the public. Los Angeles Times

Just as Nashville was staking its claim as Music City, a West Coast country style that would eventually be termed the Bakersfield Sound was being born in California honky-tonks. Check out this previously unreleased live Buck Owens recording from 1973. Rolling Stone

BART’s new double-barrier fare gates are getting roasted on social media. SF Gate

With Squaw Valley and Mammoth ski resorts still open in July after a near-record winter, skiers zipped down the slopes in shorts and T-shirts on Independence Day. SF Gate

There was a Confederate monument in Monterey for six decades, but people only noticed after it was removed. Monterey County Weekly

The metropolitan El Centro area in California’s Imperial Valley has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. NPR

A working California ranch larger than the city of San Francisco has hit the market for $72 million. The 50,500-acre ranch is just 40 miles from Oakland. Wall Street Journal


Los Angeles: partly sunny, 77. San Diego: partly sunny, 70. San Francisco: partly sunny, 65. San Jose: sunny, 82. Sacramento: sunny, 96. More weather is here.


Disaster is not an enduring discomfort — cold weather is an enduring discomfort. Cold weather emptied the Midwest and filled California.
Kevin Starr

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.