RIDGECREST, Calif. — Two major earthquakes that hit Southern California last week should be a warning to people nationwide to prepare for natural disasters, the state’s governor said as officials expressed relief that the damage wasn’t worse.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday that governments must strengthen alert systems and building codes and that residents should ensure they know how to protect themselves during an earthquake.
“It is a wake-up call for the rest of the state and other parts of the nation, frankly,” Newsom said at a news conference on the state’s efforts to help the region hit by earthquakes Thursday and Friday.
Friday night’s earthquake was the largest in Southern California in nearly 20 years. Officials have voiced concerns about the possibility of major aftershocks in the days and even months to come, though the chances have dwindled.
No fatalities or major injuries were reported after the magnitude 7.1 quake, 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.
WATCH: 7.1 magnitude earthquake rattles California
The quake was centred 18 km from Ridgecrest, the same remote area of the desert where a magnitude 6.4 temblor hit Thursday. It left behind cracked and burned buildings, broken roads, obstructed railroad tracks and leaking water and gas lines.
By Sunday morning, all roads serving the town of 28,000 people were safe to drive again, water and power had been restored, and bus service would resume Monday, Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin said. Homes were being inspected for damage, he said.
Residents of the nearby town of Trona, southwest of Death Valley, reported electricity had been restored but water and gas service was still out at many homes. People in the town of about 2,000 people lined up for free water being handed out by National Guard soldiers at Trona High School.
“I just picked up a couple cases for me and my dog,” said Jeb Haleman, adding his home of 40 years otherwise escaped unscathed.
Authorities warned people to be ready for aftershocks and other earthquakes, adding they may not be so lucky next time. The U.S. Geological Survey, however, predicted Sunday just a 1 per cent chance of another magnitude 7 or higher earthquake in the next week, and a rising possibility of no magnitude 6 quakes.
“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 told reporters Sunday.
The damage wasn’t worse largely because of how remote the area is, but Newsom cautioned after touring Ridgecrest that “it’s deceiving, earthquake damage. You don’t notice it at first.”
WATCH: The moment California was hit by a second major earthquake
The Democratic governor estimated the damage at more than $100 million and said President Donald Trump called him to offer federal support.
“He’s committed in the long haul, the long run, to help support the rebuilding efforts,” Newsom said of Trump.
The Ridgecrest area is sandwiched between more populated areas of Southern California and Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. Seismologists warned that it could see up to 30,000 aftershocks over the next six months, though many of those will be too small for people to notice.
April Hamlin said she was “already on edge” when the second quake rattled her Ridgecrest home. She and her three kids initially thought it was another aftershock.
“But it just kept on intensifying,” Hamlin said. “The TV went over, hanging by the cord. We heard it break. We heard glass breakage in the other rooms, but all we could do was stay where we were until it stopped.”
With the possibility of aftershocks and temperatures expected to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) over the next several days, officials were taking precautions.
The California National Guard was sending 200 troops, logistical support and aircraft, Maj. Gen. David Baldwin said. The Pentagon had been notified, and the entire California Military Department was on alert, he said.
Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake said in a Facebook post that nonessential workers were evacuated and operations halted. The epicentres of both quakes were on the base, and officials said they were assessing damage.
WATCH: Seismologist say chance of larger earthquake is 6%
Officials said most employees live off the base and in Ridgecrest, 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 centres in the region, Director Mark Ghilarducci said.
Highway officials shut down a 48-km section of State Route 178 between Ridgecrest and Trona. Crews worked through the night to patch the roadway, but it remained rough and uneven, California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Christine Knadler said.
In Ridgecrest, fire and police officials said they were initially swamped by calls for medical and ambulance service. But the police chief said there was “nothing but minor injuries such as cuts and bruises, by the grace of God.”
Two building fires — one involving a mobile home — were quickly doused, McLaughlin said, and natural gas lines where leaks were reported were shut off.
In Trona, considered the gateway to Death Valley, fire officials said up to 50 structures were damaged.
San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert Lovingood said FEMA delivered a tractor-trailer full of bottled water because of damage to water lines. Newsom declared a state of emergency for the county.
WATCH: Los Angeles news anchors react to 7.1 earthquake live on-air
Julia Doss, who maintains the Trona Neighborhood Watch page on Facebook, said the only food store in town is a Family Dollar store that was shuttered Saturday.
“The only way to get food is to drive to Ridgecrest, and with only three gas stations in town, I’m worried we may soon run out of fuel,” Doss said.
Friday’s quake probably ruptured along about 25 miles (40 kilometres) of fault line and was part of a continuing sequence, said Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology and a former science adviser at the U.S. Geological Survey.
The seismic activity is unlikely to affect fault lines outside the area, Jones said, noting that the gigantic San Andreas Fault is far away.