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6.4 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Southern California


Independence Day got off to a shaky start in Southern California. A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the desert city of Ridgecrest; that's about 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles. There are preliminary reports of damage, including some structure fires. The shaking was felt in LA as well, including by NPR's Ina Jaffe. She joins us now from NPR West. And Ina, can you just describe what it was like?

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Well, it was a slow, rolling motion - lasted about 30 seconds. Not really enough to make me get under my desk to take shelter; I just stood there watching the air ducts and ceiling lights sway. But, you know, they're used to - you get used to these things if you live in California. And the energy from this quake spread far and wide. People reported feeling it from Santa Barbara, south to San Diego and as far as Las Vegas.

CORNISH: The city of Ridgecrest is much closer to the epicenter. What have you learned about the situation there?

JAFFE: Well, this quake wasn't quite as strong as the 1994 Northridge quake right here in Los Angeles; that cost billions of dollars in damage and dozens of lives. Today's quake was about 10 miles from Ridgecrest, which is - has a population of about 29,000. The Kern County Fire Department has reported on Twitter that it's responded to some two dozen incidents in and around the city, ranging from medical emergencies to a couple of structure fires caused by ruptured gas lines, they say. We've been able to see some of those on TV. Also, the Regional Hospital in Ridgecrest is being evacuated. They haven't given a reason, but if there's damage to the structure or the water system or the air conditioning, any of that could interfere with caring for patients.

There's also another town even closer to the quake's epicenter; that's Trona - a population of about 1,700. We don't know the extent of the damage there, but there is video online of a road there just ripped in half. And given all that, we don't have any reports at this time of serious injuries or deaths.

CORNISH: That's good to know. This quake registered at 6.4, but I understand it comes after a swarm of about a thousand tiny earthquakes in Southern California. Are people there starting to get nervous? I know that there's been this ongoing conversation warning about this - the one, right? The big one on the San Andreas Fault.

JAFFE: Well, people should be worried about the big one on the San Andreas Fault every day, according to geologists - well, if not worried, at least, you know, prepared. But that swarm you're talking about was about 100 miles to the south of today's quake. And seismologists at Cal Tech say today's quake wasn't on the San Andreas. If you look at a map, the area where this quake was is east of the Sierra Nevada and west of Death Valley National Park.

So it's got a lot of little faults, some of which aren't even named. And the aftershock pattern makes it appear that there may have been two small faults involved because you see a line of quakes headed northeast, and then the pattern seems to take a left turn.

CORNISH: And Cal Tech geologists are on the way. I'm guessing we'll probably know more once they get there?

JAFFE: We will. Right now what the people in Ridgecrest know, though, is that there have been dozens of aftershocks. There have been at least three that are magnitude 4.5 or greater. And geologists say there could be one of magnitude 5 or greater, and that could cause more damage to structures that have already taken a beating.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ina Jaffe at NPR West. Ina, thanks for your reporting.

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

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."