Governor estimates California quake toll at $100 million, says poor have been hit hardest

Nicole Hayden
Governor estimates California quake toll at $100 million, says poor have been hit hardest

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Roads cracked, but have already been repaired. Rock-slides littered highways, but have already been cleared. A water shortage was announced, but it has been remedied.

While the earthquake has caused devastation in the small California towns of Ridgecrest and Trona, experts said it could have been much worse considering the size of Friday night's quake.

Gov. Gavin Newsom estimated more than $100 million in economic damage, the Associated Press reported.

While it appears the structural toll on the community was minimal, officials say the deeper devastation is the personal financial burden of recovering from the destruction that occurred behind closed doors.

And that destruction might not be over — there is a chance that a sizeable quake could hit in the coming week, undoing any recovery progress that has already been made. The damage could be even greater as the prior quakes have already weakened building structures.

The 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck Ridgecrest, California, Friday night — a day after the 6.4-magnitude Fourth of July quake hit the same area — traumatized many as homes shook, windows broke and small appliances flew off shelves. 

"We are looking at what our total losses are, what was destroyed, major damage or minor damage. We need to know that before we can make a request for major disaster assistance," said Mark Ghilarducci, director of California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, during a Saturday morning press conference.

Ghilarducci said that as the sun came up, his crews found that damage was not as bad as it could have been considering the size of the quake. 

A socioeconomic disaster

"This is a socioeconomic issue," said Governor Gavin Newsom during a press conference late Saturday afternoon. "In the mobile home park ... people don't have a place to go once they have been red-tagged."

Newsom said much of the damage can't be seen by walking down the street, but only by walking through people's homes. He said many in the community are without earthquake insurance because it's too expensive.

Recovering from foundational damage to a home or even broken windows or appliances is a costly financial burden for individuals and small businesses.  

"The world doesn't notice the real damage until you open that door," Newsom said. "It's behind the door. Inside the homes. Inside the stores."

Newsom said the state and federal governments are committed to the community's recovery. The president needs to declare a national emergency before emergency funds can be allocated. While President Donald Trump hasn't made that declaration yet, Newsom said he is confident that it's coming and that Trump had called him to offer federal support in the rebuilding effort.

"We don't agree on everything, but there is no politics on this," Newsom said, referring to the president's intent on providing assistance. "One area where there is no politics is on emergency response recovery and increasing emergency preparedness."

The state will be applying for federal assistance through FEMA and for disaster loans to help individuals address their losses. California Disaster Assistance Act funds are also available to assist local governments with the cost of repairing damage to roads, schools, hospitals and fire stations, and off-setting the cost of local emergency responses. 

In addition, the state is engaging with partners in the private, faith-based, and philanthropic communities to arrange financial help for those who don't have earthquake insurance. 

Assistance centers will soon be set up in Ridgecrest to provide assistance for locals on how to navigate financial recovery, educating residents on what kind of assistance they might qualify for even without insurance.

Newsom also expressed concern in addressing the recovery needs of the Naval base, which is responsible for 86% of local economic activity, he said. The base is also the largest land naval base in the country.

Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, which is located in Ridgecrest, had evacuated all non-essential personnel following the initial July 4th quake. Naval spokesman Paul Dale said crews on the base started recovery efforts after the initial quake, but have to completely start over following Friday's nights larger event. 

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Anticipating another quake

Newsom also declared a commitment to better prepare for earthquake, ranging from tighter building codes to launching a statewide monitoring and alert system.

The governor said a statewide alert system is currently 75% completed and would place 1,110 monitors throughout the state to track seismic activity. The system is a brainchild of the state, USGS, CalTech and UC Berkeley, and it would not only alert officials of coming seismic events, but would have automatic infrastructure responses such as immediate shut-off of trains.

For the immediate future, though, scientists have already said there is a 27% chance for a magnitude 6 within the next week, Caltech Seismologist Doctor Egill Hauksson. And officials are warning residents to prepare for this possibility.

The probability for another magnitude-7 quake within the next week in Southern California is 3%, experts said. That percent change decreased from  6% the night before.

On Saturday night, Dr. Lucy Jones, a seismologist and founder of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science & Society and a former science adviser at the USGS, tweeted that the chances for stronger aftershocks in the same area are lessening. 

"In the next week, M4s are still certain, a couple of M5s are likely, but larger quakes are looking more improbable," she wrote on Twitter.

Hauksson said the aftershocks that he and his team have detected are within a 30-mile radius of Ridgecrest. Any additional devastating shock would impact the immediate area of Trona, Ridgecrest and the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Little impact would reach the LA area or the Coachella Valley other than small tremors. 

"We have already recorded 340 aftershock events at a 3.9 magnitude or higher," Hauksson said Saturday afternoon. "Our data has lots more recorded that we haven't read yet. But when it's all said and done, I expect we will have had 30,000 aftershocks, down to a 1 magnitude, between these events."

Damage so far

The two major earthquakes that occurred in Southern California this past week caused homes to shift in place, foundations to crack and retaining walls have weakened.

Many found themselves without an inhabitable home or no longer felt safe in their home for fear of impacts of aftershocks. About 200 people opted to sleep in emergency shelters Friday night as crews canvassed the towns to assess for damage. Others slept in their cars or on mattresses on their lawn.

There are currently no reports of deaths, major injuries or major building collapses. There have been reports of minor injuries, downed grocery store shelves, damage to residential homes, and other structural damage, including buildings with the glass blown out. 

Between Friday night and Saturday morning, four structure fires were reported and one resulted in the loss of a home in a mobile home park in Ridgecrest, said Kern County Fire Department Battalion Chief Dionisio Mitchell. 

Also during the night, thefts occurred including a residence that was broken into and a piece of expensive equipment was stolen from a convenience store, said Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin. Over the next five days, an increased number of police will be patrolling the streets to prevent additional thefts.

"We did last night have some bad people come into this community and try to take things," said Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden. "If you see something report it, say something. Please, please, please keep abreast on what is going on. We will come through this OK because we are a community."

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Barring another earthquake and sizable aftershocks, Ghilarducci said residents will mostly see crews working quickly to assess damage in order to restore normality to the community. Hundreds of firefighters, police, U.S. Army officials, inspectors, and engineers will be inspecting for damage. Crews will be on foot, flying drones and planes to assess the area.

California Department of Transportation crews worked through Friday night on road repairs, patching cracks and clearing rocks slides. By Saturday morning all roads were re-opened. All bridges were inspected for damage and cleared as safe. 

Power has been restored in both Ridgecrest and Trona, and cell phone communications are still working well. 

Ridgecrest police were originally worried about diminishing supplies and asked for donations of drinking water Friday night that could be distributed to residents in need. Ghilarducci said water turned out not to be as big of an issue as originally anticipated and both cities have ample supplies. 

For now, the Ridgecrest community is on a path to recovery — unless another quake shakes things up. 

Follow Nicole Hayden on Twitter: @Nicole_A_Hayden. 

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Governor estimates California quake toll at $100 million, says poor have been hit hardest