EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Mark and Karen Welch went to southern California last week to visit with their son, Luke.
They had no idea that they would be part of one of the biggest news stories in the country. Yet, in the span of about 24 hours, they were witnesses to the two largest earthquakes that state has experienced in about two decades.
“We came out here to check off some (personal history) boxes. We sure didn’t expect this,” Mark said Friday night in a phone interview at about 10:35 p.m. Central time. That was about five minutes after a quake that the United States Geological Survey said measured 7.1 on the Richter scale struck near the community of Ridgecrest.
Ridgecrest is about 150 miles from El Segundo, a suburb of Los Angeles. The USGS said both the 7.1 quake that struck Friday night and the 6.4 quake that hit Thursday originated close to Ridgecrest.
Mark said the difference in the two quakes was very noticeable.
“I could tell that this was much stronger. The first one had lasted about 15 to 20 seconds. The second one was well over 30 seconds,” he said of how he, Karen and Luke were inside eating restaurants for both quakes. “Yeah, we were in a little coffee shop for the first one (on Thursday) and it was a deal where the building we were in just kind of started undulating and I remember wondering to myself, ‘Well who’s jumping up and down next to our table?’ Then you realize that we’re on a concrete floor, so it can’t be that.
“Pretty quickly, you had people saying, ‘Oh my God! It’s an earthquake!’ I actually have experienced one before, and that was several years ago in Union City (Tennessee), but these were stronger, a lot stronger, than that one. From what I’ve seen, you really don’t start feeling a quake until it’s at 6.0 or higher. Boy, we felt these!”
Friday night, the Welches were having dinner at a restaurant not far from Luke’s apartment when the earth rumbled for the second time. The 7.1 quake is the most powerful to hit California since a 7.3 that rocked the area around Landers, also well east of L.A., in 1992; it is actually more powerful than the Northridge quake of 1994 that killed 67 people.
“We definitely saw a chandelier above us swinging, so that was our signal to get out of there,” Mark said, noting that once everyone had returned to Luke’s apartment, they went to the USGS website to see what the quake registered. “At first, they were saying 6.9. Then they upped it to 7.1 and we were like, ‘Wow!’
“And something else about both of these quakes is that they were not on the San Andreas Fault (the fault many geologists believe will someday produce a massive quake that will be even larger than the Ridgecrest shocks). So, off that, I’ve got to think we were very fortunate. We dodged a bullet, because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of damage here in the Los Angeles area.”
Reports from other media outlets say that no deaths resulted from either Ridgecrest quake and, with Ridgecrest being fairly rural in its makeup, damage was minimized, except for several fires that were caused by ruptured gas lines. This was also the case with the Landers quake of ‘92, with one death and about 400 injuries being reported from that shock.
Mark said Luke, 30, has been in El Segundo since January, having moved from Houston, Texas. Luke is a safety official with a refinery owned by Chevron.
“They’ve not called him yet, but he’s wanting to get ready in case,” Mark said. “He majored in (occupational safety and health) at Murray State, so he’s been able to have some interesting positions because of that.”
Mark also said one last impression will be taken from this experience.
“For a long time, I think we’ve all had the impression that Californians are all die-hards when it comes to earthquakes, that they’re not really bothered by them. That’s not true. They’re scared to death right now, and I don’t blame them,” he said.