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Ridgecrest Faces More Aftershocks Following 2 Powerful Earthquakes


Most of the time, the news is about the thing that happened. But every once in a while, it's about what could have happened and didn't. That's the situation in California. Residents of Ridgecrest are cleaning up after powerful back-to-back earthquakes late last week. The first was a 6.4 magnitude quake on the Fourth of July. The next night, an even bigger 7.1 magnitude quake rattled the region again. Remarkably, no one was seriously hurt, and the infrastructure damage there is relatively minor. But Southern Californians are hearing a clear message not to let their guard down.

We've got NPR's Eric Westervelt with us. He is in Ridgecrest. Eric, tell us about the conversations you've been having. How are people doing there?

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel. I mean, I think it's a mixed bag. I mean, people are pretty proud. They feel like this city has pulled together and that things are really, incredibly, returning to normal. I mean, at a public forum last night, the mayor got a standing ovation along with first responders, loud cheers of thanks. I mean, everyone is very thankful the quake did not do more damage. I mean, bus service resumes today. Water and power have been restored. The hospital is back. Public works crews are patching roads. A handful of businesses that need it will get some structural inspections this week so they can reopen. You know, so that - a sense that things are back to normal very much.

And yet, you know, the stress is real. The aftershocks are real. They keep coming. Kids and parents alike, you know, are feeling unnerved by this, and some have had trouble speaking - you know, sleeping. And I, you know, spoke with one woman, a Ridgecrest resident named Cheryl Smallwood (ph).

CHERYL SMALLWOOD: Well, I've been a little on edge. Out of all the years I've lived here, never been through one this big. I worry about my kids. I have two little ones. I hope that this never happens again. But I don't control that.

WESTERVELT: You know, and officials here are telling people, you know, reach out to counselors that we brought in. You know, a volunteer group was brought in. Therapy dogs, which have been a big hit with kids and with first responders, who've been busy working around the clock. You know, as one official put it to this crowd last night, you may not feel like yourself so please take the time to talk to someone.

MARTIN: So what does it look like, Eric?

WESTERVELT: You know, there really aren't that many outward signs that this massive quake hit. When you drive through town, there are a few stop signs, makeshift stop signs where, you know, traffic lights should be, and they're just blinking. People are going through these four-way stops. But, you know, people say, look, the inside of my house - a lot of people are telling me - got trashed. Things fell down. Broken glass. Pianos toppled. So there certainly is a sense of stress and angst here. I spoke to one woman, named Odessa Newman-Staples. She's retired from a job at the local Navy base here. She said, I came home, my house was trashed. At the same time, she emphasized to me, you know, how lucky the city has been.

MARTIN: So how could it be, though, that this earthquake, which is reportedly the largest, most significant in California in over 20 years, how is it that it didn't do more damage? Is California getting better at anticipating - not anticipating, but in retrofitting to prepare for something like this?

WESTERVELT: Yeah. I think it's hard to draw big conclusions about whether, you know, California's gotten better at preparing for big quakes. I think the biggest factor may be that this hit, you know, in a pretty rural area in the desert. The state is spending, Rachel, a lot of money on everything from quake sensors, to subsidizing, you know, retrofitting of people's homes, bolting your foundation down. You know, but at the same time, everyone here, from the governor to the local mayor, are also emphasizing, you know, personal responsibility. Get your personal quake kit up to date with food and water and a go bag. Have a plan with your family. Get those in order 'cause the next one could be worse.

MARTIN: NPR's Eric Westervelt for us this morning. Thanks, Eric. We appreciate it.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.