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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

RIDGECREST (AP)—Two major earthquakes that hit Southern California last week should be a warning to people nationwide to prepare for natural disasters, the state's governor said as officials expressed relief that the damage wasn't worse.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday that governments must strengthen alert systems and building codes and that residents should ensure they know how to protect themselves during an earthquake.

“It is a wake-up call for the rest of the state and other parts of the nation, frankly,” Newsom said at a news conference on the state's efforts to help the region hit by earthquakes Thursday and Friday.

Friday night's earthquake was the largest in Southern California in nearly 20 years. Officials have voiced concerns about the possibility of major aftershocks in the days and even months to come, though the chances have dwindled.

No fatalities or major injuries were reported after the magnitude 7.1 quake, which jolted an area from Sacramento to Mexico and prompted the evacuation of the Navy's largest single landholding, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in the Mojave Desert.

The quake was centered 11 miles (18 kilometers) from Ridgecrest, the same remote area of the desert where a magnitude 6.4 temblor hit Thursday. It left behind cracked and burned buildings, broken roads, obstructed railroad tracks and leaking water and gas lines.

By Sunday morning, all roads serving the town of 28,000 people were safe to drive again, water and power had been restored, and bus service would resume Monday, Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin said. Homes were being inspected for damage, he said.

Authorities warned people to be ready for aftershocks and other earthquakes, adding they may not be so lucky next time. The U.S. Geological Survey, however, predicted Sunday just a 1% chance of another magnitude 7 or higher earthquake in the next week, and a rising possibility of no magnitude 6 quakes.

“Any time that we can go through a 7-point earthquake and we do not report a fatality, a major injury, do not suffer structure damage that was significant, I want to say that that was a blessing and a miracle,” Kern County Fire Department spokesman Andrew Freeborn told reporters Sunday.

The damage wasn't worse largely because of how remote the area is, but Newsom cautioned after touring Ridgecrest that “it's deceiving, earthquake damage. You don't notice it at first.”

The Democratic governor estimated the damage at more than $100 million and said President Donald Trump called him to offer federal support.

“He's committed in the long haul, the long run, to help support the rebuilding efforts,” Newsom said of Trump.

The Ridgecrest area is sandwiched between more populated areas of Southern California and Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. Seismologists warned that it could see up to 30,000 aftershocks over the next six months, though many of those will be too small for people to notice.

With the possibility of aftershocks and temperatures expected to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) over the next several days, officials were taking precautions.

The California National Guard was sending 200 troops, logistical support and aircraft, Maj. Gen. David Baldwin said. The Pentagon had been notified, and the entire California Military Department was on alert, he said.

Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake said in a Facebook post that nonessential workers were evacuated and operations halted. The epicenters of both quakes were on the base, and officials said they were assessing damage.

Officials said most employees live off the base and in Ridgecrest, but they authorized the evacuation so those who live on base can be eligible for reimbursements.

Friday's quake probably ruptured along about 25 miles (40 kilometers) of fault line and was part of a continuing sequence, said Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology and a former science adviser at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The seismic activity is unlikely to affect fault lines outside the area, Jones said, noting that the gigantic San Andreas Fault is far away.