Some residents in the small town of Trona continued to sleep outside their homes Monday as aftershocks persisted days after two major earthquakes struck the area and jolted places as far as Sacramento and Mexico.
The temblors that hit the Searles Valley region — a magnitude 6.4 quake on July 4th and a magnitude 7.1 the next evening — have been followed by several smaller quakes. The U.S. Geological Survey reported at least 13 seismic activities in the area measuring more than magnitude 3 overnight, including a magnitude 3.9 quake centered about 14 miles north of Ridgecrest at 11:36 p.m. Sunday.
"Every time I feel one inside I would run out, so I’m like, 'I’m just gonna stay outside,'" Trona resident Kelly West told KTLA.
Like many of her neighbors, West set up a mattress in her front yard. She said she tried to leave Trona after Friday night's earthquake but turned around after finding Highway 178 closed due to rockslides.
She said the night of the magnitude 7.1 quake was the most frightening experience she's had in her life.
"I ran back in, grabbed my dogs," West said. "That’s why my truck is open here because I’m like, if anything happens, we’re going back in."
While no major injuries have been reported in the aftermath of the earthquakes, as many as 50 structures have been damaged in the San Bernardino County community that has a population of about 1,900, fire officials previously said.
"We’re kind of used to the shaking here, but with everything coming down like they did, and they’re saying it’s not safe to be sleeping in there, it just makes sense to stay outside," said Anna Sue Eldrige, whose home has been red-tagged.
At least 10 homes in Trona have been red-tagged as building inspectors continue to assess the damage, San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert said.
He said officials primarily worked to inspect larger buildings that could be used as cooling centers on Monday.
Eldrige and her husband, Benny, loaded their belongings into a U-Haul truck Monday morning with plans to leave to stay with their daughter.
The couple moved to California from Tulsa, Oklahoma in the1950s. Benny Eldridge said he helped built the 3,264-square-foot house with his father-in-law in 1961.
"You hate to leave it because it’s something your dad made,” Anna Sue Eldridge said.
Asked if they're going to rebuild, Eldridge said: "We don't know."
A shelter has been set up 25 miles north at Ridgecrest's Kerr McGee Community Center while an assistance center in Trona was expected to be opened on Wednesday, Wert said.
A daily shuttle to take people from Trona High School to the Ridgecrest shelter was scheduled to start service at 10 a.m. Monday, according to San Bernardino County officials.
Authorities also told Trona residents to boil their water and said bottled water is available for them and their animals at Trona High School.
Portable toilets and wash stations have been set up by county officials, who are expected to purchase portable showers that will be brought in either Monday or Tuesday, Wert said.
Water trucks have been providing residents with water for their toilets and swamp coolers, he added.
Wert said the water system in Trona is owned by the Searles Domestic Water Co. — leaving county officials with no control over the system. The water company has said a line between Ridgecrest and the west side of Trona is "operational" but more leaks may surface once the Ridgecrest-to-Trona line is connected to the Trona community, he said.
The July 5 quake is the strongest recorded in Southern California in nearly 20 years, according to seismologists. While experts say the probability of strong aftershocks are waning, officials are encouraging Californians to be prepared.
"It is a wake-up call for the rest of the state and other parts of the nation, frankly," said Gov. Gavin Newsom, who approved a state of emergency for the areas affected soon after the quakes.
San Bernardino County officials are working to establish a public information line and website where Trona residents can get updates, Wert said. Meanwhile, officials are trying to get the word out with the help of people who operate two popular Facebook pages in the area.
In Ridgecrest, at a packed town hall meeting on Sunday afternoon, Ridgecrest police Chief Jed McLaughlin acknowledged the stress caused by the temblors but urged residents to start going back inside their homes.
“Let’s try to start recovering now,” McLaughlin said.
West, meanwhile, told KTLA she would likely stay outside her Trona home for one more night.
"We’re going to Arizona tomorrow for a few days," she said.