Powerful quake, and swarm of aftershocks, strike northeast of Los Angeles

The quake, which struck shortly after 1 p.m. Eastern time, caused dozens of aftershocks, about two dozen fire and medical incidents and the evacuation of several apartment buildings. But it appeared that no one was seriously injured in the temblor, the authorities told reporters at a news conference.

Powerful quake, and swarm of aftershocks, strike northeast of Los Angeles

The quake, which struck shortly after 1 p.m. Eastern time, caused dozens of aftershocks, about two dozen fire and medical incidents and the evacuation of several apartment buildings. But it appeared that no one was seriously injured in the temblor, the authorities told reporters at a news conference.

David Witt, the Kern County fire chief, said most emergency calls were coming from Ridgecrest, a small desert city of about 30,000 residents that was closest to the epicenter. Among them were minor injuries, a couple of house fires, downed power lines and some gas leaks.

Emergency workers were traveling to Kern County from other fire departments to help, Witt said, and the county activated its emergency operations center.

“We have more calls than we have people,” Witt said.

In a statement, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office said the Ridgecrest hospital and several apartment buildings had been evacuated and temporary shelters opened at two locations, including a Walmart in Ridgecrest. But as of midafternoon, only a handful of people had arrived, according to Alan Jones, an employee with the Parks and Recreation Department.

Jones said the earthquake was by far the most severe he had felt.

“It was definitely lifting up my house and lifting me — and I’m a big guy,” Jones said. “It moved me around like a rag doll.”

Jones said many items in his home flew off shelves, but the house itself did not seem to have been damaged.

The quake hit a secluded area in the Mojave Desert about 100 miles north of Los Angeles and 50 miles east of Bakersfield, said Paul Caruso, a geophysicist with the USGS.

“It’s been widely felt, but we don’t expect any significant damage,” Caruso said.

He emphasized that the temblor would have been far worse if it had been closer to Los Angeles.

“An earthquake that strong that occurred near a city would cause major destruction and probably a lot of casualties,” he said.

Dr. Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, said the earthquake was the biggest in Southern California since 1999.

Data from the USGS showed a swarm of aftershocks rattled the same region after the earthquake. A 4.0-magnitude temblor preceded the big shake.

Jones told reporters that the fault that ruptured on Thursday was separate from the San Andreas fault, the largest and most threatening of faults in California.

She said Thursday’s earthquake did not appear to have consequences for the timing of the Big One — the much-feared but inevitable earthquake on the San Andreas.

“It doesn’t increase the risk,” Jones told reporters at a news briefing. “It also doesn’t decrease it.”

A simulation a decade ago of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on the San Andreas fault estimated that it would cause 2,000 deaths, 50,000 injuries and $200 billion in damage.

Geological research along the southern portion of the San Andreas suggests the fault is due for a major rupture. The last big earthquake on the southern San Andreas was 162 years ago. Katherine M. Scharer, a geologist with the USGS, said the average interval between the previous nine earthquakes in that area was 135 years. But the intervals have been highly variable — ranging from 44 years to 305 years.

In Lake Isabella, some 60 miles west of Ridgecrest, Reyanna Denier, 39, was doing laundry when she felt shaking and figured the washing machine needed to be leveled to the ground of her modular home, which sits on an elevated foundation, almost as if on stilts.

“I told my husband, and he said, ‘It’s not the washing machine. That’s an earthquake!’” she said.

The couple moved under the door jamb, which Denier said she could feel “flex, like loping waves on the ocean, kind of like on a boat.”

“It wasn’t that it was violent jerking, but it was steady,” she said. “Our chandelier was rocking back and forth, and the TV — the flat screen — was wavering. It was really disconcerting because you’re going, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s not stopping.’”

A few hours later, Denier could see emergency vehicles driving past. A helicopter buzzed in the sky.

Lt. John Williams, a California Highway Patrol commander, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that a large crack opened in California Highway 178 and boulders fell onto Highway 395, but both were cleared within an hour and all roads were now passable. The local airport was also operating.

The mayor of Ridgecrest, Peggy Breeden, thanked state authorities for a quick response and said the damage was not severe. “We expect we’ll be able to move on from this,” she said.

But she noted there had been 87 aftershocks, and said she wanted to keep a declaration of emergency in place because “we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Stores in the Ridgecrest area remained closed, with local residents unable to get food or ice. A spokesman for the Ridgecrest Fire Department said he was uncertain when they would reopen.

President Donald Trump said Thursday afternoon on Twitter that he had been briefed on the earthquake.

Whether people in Los Angeles felt the earthquake or not depended on where they were and what they were doing. Those driving in cars or riding city buses said they had no idea there had been an earthquake, while those in higher floors of apartment buildings or hotels said they had been terrified.

“I almost had a heart attack,” said Nathan Jones, who was making tea in his apartment in Santa Monica when the earthquake struck.

“I’m 73 years old,” he said. “I felt real dizzy, and I kept rocking like this. And I thought, ‘Is this how I’m going to go out?’ I thought I was dying.”

For Starla Hawkins, who was singing on the street in Santa Monica for tips, it was “just like a real small earthquake.” The trees were swaying, she said, but she wasn’t scared.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey shook and the elevators went out, and shortly after, a public address announcement at the hotel told guests there had been an earthquake. “We apologize for the inconvenience,” the message said.

Those on the upper floors felt a powerful jolt.

“I felt like the hotel was going to come crashing down,” said Miguel Forbes, a guest at the hotel.

Deandra Blakely was restocking food shelves at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Santa Monica when she felt a sway.

“At first I thought I was dizzy,” said Blakely, a barista.

Then her supervisor ran out and asked if she had felt it. Two other workers at the coffee shop felt nothing.

Sofia and Jay Lyons, who are documentary filmmakers, were home when the earthquake hit. Sofia Lyons, originally from New York, has lived in Burbank, California, for the last seven years, but never felt an earthquake like this one.

“I was in my bed and it swayed back and forth like it was a water bed,” Lyons said. “Then we heard a crash of something falling off a wall in the other room. I was freaked out. Now I know what an earthquake feels like.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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