The largest earthquake in two decades rattled Southern California on Thursday morning, shaking communities from Las Vegas to Long Beach and ending a quiet period in the state’s seismic history.
Striking at 10:33 a.m., the magnitude 6.4 temblor was centered about 125 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the remote Searles Valley area near where Inyo, San Bernardino and Kern counties meet. It was felt as far away as Ensenada and Mexicali in Mexico, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Reno and Chico, Calif.
Authorities said there were no immediate reports of deaths, serious injuries or major infrastructure damage, though emergency responders were still inspecting areas around the city of Ridgecrest.
Patients at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital were evacuated “out of an abundance of caution,” hospital Chief Executive James Suver said. About 20 patients were transferred to other facilities while seismic engineers inspected broken pipes in the facility. “For true emergencies, we will stabilize them and then get them to the right level of care,” he said.
Ridgecrest, a community of about 29,000 known to many skiers as a pit stop on the way to Mammoth, was inundated with offers of help, from neighboring towns, congressional leaders such as Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Kamala Harris and even the White House, Mayor Peggy Breeden said.
”With all this cooperation … we expect we will be able to move on to this and not see too many awful things happen,” Breeden said.
The quake, estimated to have been felt by some 15 million people, was the largest with an epicenter in Southern California since the magnitude 7.1 Hector Mine quake struck the Mojave Desert in 1999, about 35 miles north of Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base. The last earthquake felt as widely as Thursday’s was the magnitude 7.2 earthquake on Easter Sunday 2010 that had an epicenter across the border in Baja California.
Before Thursday, it had been almost five years since the state experienced an earthquake of magnitude 6 or stronger. Experts had said the period of calm was sure to end, and when it did it would likely bring destruction.
The sparsely populated location of the Searles Valley quake appeared to mitigate the damage. A similar temblor, such as 1994’s magnitude 6.7 Northridge quake, in the Los Angeles basin would have undoubtedly meant deaths and severe property damage.
The rocking in Searles Valley began with two foreshocks: an initial quake of magnitude 4 at 10:02 a.m. Seven minutes later, a 2.5 temblor struck. About 24 minutes later, the mainshock began seven miles underground, lasting five seconds.