Officials in Southern California expressed relief Saturday that damage and injuries weren’t worse after the largest earthquake the region has seen in nearly 20 years, while voicing concerns about the possibility of major aftershocks in the days and even months to come.
No fatalities or major injuries were reported after Friday night’s 7.1-magnitude earthquake, which jolted an area from Sacramento to Mexico and prompted the evacuation of the Navy’s largest single landholding, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in the Mojave Desert.
The quake struck at 8:19 p.m. Friday and was centered 11 miles from Ridgecrest, the same area of the desert where a 6.4-magnitude temblor hit just a day earlier. It left behind cracked and burning buildings, broken roads, obstructed railroad tracks and leaking water and gas lines.
The light damage was largely due to the remoteness of the area where the tremblor occurred. Only 28,000 people live in the Ridgecrest area, which is sandwiched between more populated areas of Southern California and Las Vegas’s Clark County. But seismologists warned that the area could see up to 30,000 aftershocks over the next six months.
With the possibility of aftershocks and temperatures forecast to reach 100 degrees over the next several days, officials were taking precautions.
The California National Guard was sending 200 troops, logistical support and aircraft, said Maj. Gen. David Baldwin. The Pentagon had been notified, and the entire California Military Department was put on alert, he said.
Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake said in a social media post that nonessential workers were evacuated and operations halted. The epicenters of both quakes were on the base, and officials said they are continuing to asses damage. Officials said most employees live off the base, but they authorized the evacuation so those who live on base can be eligible for reimbursements.
The California Office of Emergency Services brought in cots, water and meals and set up cooling centers in the region, Director Mark Ghilarducci said.
State highway officials shut down a 30-mile section of State Route 178 between Ridgecrest and the town of Trona southwest of Death Valley, due to a rockslide and severe cracking. The move left Trona temporarily cut off. California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Christine Knadler said crews worked through the night to patch the roadway, but it remained rough and uneven.
Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology and a former science adviser at the U.S. Geological Survey, said the new quake probably ruptured along about 25 miles of fault line and was part of a continuing sequence. The seismic activity is unlikely to affect fault lines outside of the area, Jones said, noting that the gigantic San Andreas Fault is far away.
Egill Hauksson, another Caltech seismologist, said later in the day that scientists believe the continuing sequence could produce more than 30,000 quakes of magnitude 1 or greater over six months. He said the probability of a magnitude 7 over the next week is about 3%, but one or two magnitude 6 quakes are expected.