Wendy Goldman’s sister lives in Ridgecrest, just 17 kilometres from the epicentre of what’s reported to have been the strongest earthquake to hit California in 20 years.
Wendy, a Salmon Arm resident, says her sister Margo, her spouse and their five children were at home on July 4 when a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck, sending them running out of their home on the edge of the Mojave Desert.
“She was glad the kids listened,” says Wendy. “She said, ‘out of the house – now.’ And there was a stampede.”
Ridgecrest, a town of 28,000, sits between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, about a four-hour drive in either direction. Initial damage and injuries could have been a different story had the epicentre been closer to those urban centres.
That night the family slept in a 15-person passenger van.
Margo has lived in California for 20 years. Although she experienced an earthquake when she first moved there, Wendy says, the kids, ages seven to 18, have not. Adding to the stress, unplanned events are especially difficult for two of the children who have special needs.
Read more: Three more earthquakes recorded off B.C.
The following day Margo was off to Palmdale, a town about 90 miles away. She has a karaoke business, so happened to be in a bar about 8:20 that night.
That was when the 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit, although with Margo farther from the epicentre than Ridgecrest, it measured at 4.8.
“Drinks were splashing, and a number of people ran out of the bar, including the singer, mid-karaoke,” Wendy reports.
Margo’s first thought was to drive home, but she was cautioned not to in the dark.
Meanwhile, Margo’s good friend Jennifer and her two children had moved temporarily into Margo’s home, because their double-wide mobile home had collapsed, its supports sticking through the floor. In total, 12 people are living at her place.
On the way home the next day, Margo bought extra cots, sleeping bags and a 10-person tent. And that’s where they’ve all been staying at night.
“From what I’ve gleaned, that’s not unique to them at all,” Wendy says. “Lots and lots of families are doing the same.”
Along with being safer outside, the temperatures go down to about 20C at night in the desert, a nice break from the mid to high 30s in the daytime.
Margo texted Wendy Monday during the interview to say there are still lots of aftershocks, but they’re becoming the new normal.
“We don’t feel anything lower than a five at this point,” repeats Wendy with a laugh.
The family is drinking bottled water, because their well now has sediment and pressure issues. Electricity has been restored in the area, although Margo’s home is powered with solar.
Emergency organizations there are working to provide food and temporary housing for people displaced. The city building has been set up as a place to sleep and shower. The Red Cross is there to support first responders.
Jennifer’s family will be getting temporary housing through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Society.
Here in Salmon Arm, the experience has left Wendy grateful for technology. It’s kept her in touch with her sister.
“We were going to have a Skype talk that afternoon. She texted, I can’t talk, we’re having an earthquake.”