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'Scared to death': 7.1 earthquake follows 6.4, leaving Ridgecrest residents fearful, resilient
RIDGECREST, Calif. — At first, Amber Hamlin didn't think much of the shaking that started to envelop her bedroom in this compact desert community.
After all, she had already endured a major 6.4-magnitude earthquake on the Fourth of July and a day's worth of aftershocks.
But at 8:20 p.m. PST Friday, just as she had settled down to watch television with her three children, the shaking started. And kept going. And going.
"It started getting more intense, like a jerking motion," the 48-year-old stay-at-home mom said. It was accompanied by a sound she described as "like a rumble."
This was the 7.1 quake that had its epicenter near Ridgecrest and was felt from the San Francisco Bay area to the casino resorts of Las Vegas. But for all the shaking, the damage overall remained relatively light. The quake directed most of its energy in the sparsely populated areas of desert north of Los Angeles.
In Ridgecrest, the shaking just wouldn't stop as dawn started to arrive Saturday. The working-class community has long stayed out of the limelight with many of its residents having jobs attached to a nearby naval weapons center at China Lake.
Not now. Media flooded the city to report on the quake. Rescue workers arrived from surrounding counties. An army of power company workers in bucket trucks were driving around Ridgecrest looking for downed wires. Police patroled residential areas all night to protect against looters.
'Scared to death'
Authorities said the quake sparked at least three fires and knocked merchandise off the shelves of supermarkets and discount stores in Ridgecrest. Though it didn't appear to have broken windows or collapsed walls, based on a tour around town, its biggest impact appeared to be on residents' psyches.
"I didn't think that would ever happen here," said Hamlin. who grew up in Ridgecrest. When it did, the quake arrived violently at her two-bedroom home.
The big-screen TV fell forward off the wall as the quake reached its zenith. She heard glass breaking around the house. With the house's power having failed, it was time to get out. She grabbed some medication, packed up the kids — 15-year-old boy and girl twins, a 14-year-old girl and their St. Bernard, Duchess, and headed for a shelter.
"I was scared to death because I didn't want my kids to get hurt," she said.
Had the quake struck earlier in the day, the injuries being reported at area hospitals might have been more than just minor. The Albertsons and Stater Bros. supermarkets were awash in items that hit the floor. For the second time in week, crews of workers feverishly tried to clean up quake damage in hopes of opening Saturday.
At the Eastridge market on Ridgecrest Boulevard, the quake turned the liquor store into an ocean of booze and broken glass. A crew tried to mop up the sticky mess but it was no easy task. Owner Tony Abdullatif, in business with the neighborhood market for 12 years, estimated his losses at $100,000. Among the broken bottles were some that sell for $200 or $300.
“There’s no insurance. What are we going to do?” he said. The only good news was that no one was hurt when all the bottles started falling off the shelves. Abdullatif said he was outside having a smoke. It sounded like “a glass manufactury had exploded.”
The Big Lots discount store was littered with merchandise of all sorts — men's underwear, box fans, headphones, suntan lotion, large plastic bottles of Sprite soda pop and toilet paper. Giant acoustic tiles and light figures dangled from the ceiling.
A few doors away, a Stater Bros. supermarket appeared to have been in the same shape before an army of workers assembled to try to clean up the mess. It was the same situation at an Albertsons supermarket, where crews worked inside to try to clean up while an employee did his best to catch some shuteye on a mattress by the main door.
After having endured the Fourth of July quake at a Burger King, Joshua McGowen, 26, decided he had enough. McGowen and his wife Lacey Wells, 23, moved outside of their apartment to make sure they didn't end up in a collapsed building. But that didn't work out well, either. When the giant earthquake struck Friday, he said he discovered they were underneath arcing electric wires, forcing them to make a hasty retreat.
"I was just lying on a blanket in the grass," he said. Then, "I saw sparks." Now, the couple says they are contemplating moving back to Arizona.
Some residents questioned whether two of the strongest temblors in 20 years striking within a day could mean an even larger quake might be in store.
Jimmy Leyanna, 63, was in church with three or four other worshippers and the minister when the big quake struck. He wondered if the quake was a sign from above, especially since he said he had made a joke Thursday that he feared might not please the almighty.
"I hope God does not hold that against me," Leyanna said.