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6.4 Earthquake, Swarms of Aftershocks Strike Southern California; USGS Seismologist Says Change Another Damaging Quake Today. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired July 4, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We are back with breaking news on the fourth of July. I'm Brooke Baldwin, we have been covering this earthquake in Southern California, epicenter in the middle of the red rings on your screen, Ridgecrest, California. Sara Sidner is our correspondent in Los Angeles. We've been learning that Ridgecrest Regional Hospital is now being evacuated. So, Sara, tell me more about that.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's the only hospital really for that region. This is a significant event. It is being evacuated according to the Kern County Fire Department who just put out an alert that it is being evacuated. We should mention that it's been around since like the 1940s, so the building may be a bit older than some of the other buildings in the area, but it is being evacuated at this time.

The main hospital there in the Ridgecrest and surrounding areas. It's significant having to take patients out at a time when there are also aftershocks happening every few seconds or minutes there in Ridgecrest. We now know there are at least 58 aftershocks that have happened since the main event of the 6.4 earthquake that happened there, and the epicenter was the Ridgecrest area. So now we are hearing the hospital is being evacuated as these sort of rolling aftershocks are going on there. Very scary for families, very scary for of course the patients.

But this is what they need to do to make sure the patients are safe. There is, yes, an intensive care area there in the regional hospital there, so this is significant. We should also mention hearing from the mayor, hearing from the fire crews there, there are at least five fires that are ongoing there in Ridgecrest, as well as several gas lines that have been broken in the area. These are normal things that happen.

They are dangerous, but they do happen after an earthquake of this size. Again, 6.4 magnitude is a moderately strong earthquake. But it was also very shallow. And by shallow, I mean you're going to feel it more. The energy you're going to feel that. So a lot of people talking about the fact that they felt a jolt and then felt a rolling feeling. And we talked to one hotelier that says they could actually see the floors rippling when it started to roll.

And we are hearing from people who are inside one of the Wal-Marts there in the area saying that was stuff just flying off the shelves. There are some pictures out there showing that as well with just cans all over the floor. And these are the kinds of things that can hurt you, that can injure people and often do in these kinds of events. That is why they always tell people if you're in an earthquake prone area that if you start feeling it, just the very first moment to take cover underneath something that is strong like a table, for example, where you will not get hit for example in the head by something falling off the wall or falling down from the ceiling.

But again, we do want to reiterate that so far, we are hearing that rescue crews out, that there are reports of medical emergencies and of fires. And now we're hearing that the regional hospital in the area is evacuating at this time. These are significant events happening there in Ridgecrest. Our hearts go out to all the people that are dealing with this. We have heard from families whose voices are cracking, even the mayor's voice cracked as she talked about the fact another one is happening. Another aftershock.

We should also mention hearing from the renowned seismologist Lucy Jones who we all trust and admire, as she is always there during these events and it is very deeply knowledgeable about this, that there's a one in 20 chance of a stronger earthquake. A larger event happening, but that throughout the next three days there will certainly be a lot of aftershocks and people should be prepared for those. Brooke.

BALDWIN: Sara, thank you very much. Edgar Lugo is on the phone with me now, he is the manager of a restaurant in Ridgecrest, which is at the epicenter of this 6.4 magnitude quake. Edgar, I've been talking to a number of people who have had various stories of experiencing this thing and aftershocks. Tell me your story. What did it feel like?

EDGAR LUGO, MANAGER, KRISTY'S FAMILY RESTAURANT IN RIDGECREST (via telephone): Yes, I mean it was -- happened out of nowhere, you know. People started -- definitely work in busy restaurants. And all of a sudden you get this big old movement and then everyone starts freaking out, running out the restaurant, going under tables, so I mean, it was something very, very --

BALDWIN: When you say it was a packed restaurant what time of day was it for you guys in California when this hit?

LUGO: I mean this was -- I mean we're usually busy throughout the weekend but knowing that today's Fourth of July, you know, everybody's going to go out have breakfast, so we were very busy. You know, the restaurant was very busy. I mean, you know, it could have been a different day, but it happened to be a day where everybody just happened to be there. So --

[15:35:00] BALDWIN: And I've heard various reports talking to a woman you know in a market who described bottles of alcohol coming crashing down, shelves moving around, somebody's washer-dryer, yanked off-the- wall. Was it that severe for you?

LUGO: It was. Like I said all of the plates started moving, going onto the floor. The staff in my kitchen dropped everything, dropped to the floor because we were getting prepped up for lunch. And we get this and everything just drops to the floor and moves around. We had to evacuate, and it happened so quick we didn't know what to do, you know.

BALDWIN: Have you felt the aftershocks?

LUGO: We have, Yes.

BALDWIN: Is it a blink and it's finished for people who have never felt something like that or is it equally frightening?

LUGO: It's equally frightening. I mean, you don't expect it. But when you do expect it it's like what do you do, you know?

BALDWIN: Are you on the move? Are you going home, is your home in Ridgecrest as well?

LUGO: Yes. I live here in Ridgecrest, but we have closed down the restaurant for the day because we don't have any power. So, wrapped it all up but I mean, there's nothing we can do.

BALDWIN: OK. Out of power. I know it's hot as well. Edgar, thank you so much. Let's go back to the seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones for an update.

DR. LUCY JONES, SEISMOLOGIST: -- those two strands. And so we think the main fault was rupturing down towards the southwest, which would have focused the energy towards Ridgecrest. But then there's also a second fault that seems to have been activated going up to the northwest. Again, this area that's not completely surprising. Look at those little black lines in there, there was a bunch of them. This is an area with a lot of little faults in a rather complex area moving apart.

It does suggest that Ridgecrest was particularly hard hit. We have reports from California Office Of Emergency Services that they -- there seem to be a couple of structure fires going on in Ridgecrest, and they're responding to them. There's also a small community called Trona which is even closer to the ruptures, and it's on a dry lakebed. We do not have any communication with them yet. They would be a place where there's potentially significant damage.

As I've said, we're seeing at least two faults involved. This area is characterized by robust sequences. So we expect to be seeing a lot of earthquakes today, and some of them could be -- could be damaging. Probably at least one more will be damaging.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kern County just tweeted something that suggests they were anticipating a quake in 15 minutes this tweet came out of a little while ago.

JONES: There is nothing that gives us the time of a particular event. Now I'm going to tell you I think there will be a magnitude 5 today. I did that on the day of North Ridge and when it happened people said you predicted the earthquake and I said I predicted rain in Kauai, too. This is the same situation. When the probabilities are this high, then you can say, yes, there will probably be a magnitude 5 today. But it's not the time of any particular event. There's nothing.

If someone is giving out a time of a particular event, they're not basing it on science. OK. That's probably what we've really got about the aftershocks. The geologists haven't yet gotten out so we don't have a report yet on that.

ROB GRAVES, USGS SEISMOLOGIST: Actually, you could mention, we've seen this kind of conjugate behavior.

JONES: Oh, that's true. Besides did you just notice two aftershocks showed up? I just saw the two extra red dots that showed up here. This type of, yes, conjugate behavior is relatively common. Back in 1987 we had two magnitude 6s on conjugate faults. The Landers earthquake with Big Bear. Big Bear was a little more separated from it but it was the same type of conjugate feature. The way the stress works, if I'm pushing in this way, I can move out here or move out here. So those essentially perpendicular, we call it conjugate faulting is a common feature. And we'll just have to see, we are only two hours into this sequence. We'll have to see how it develops.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you gotten any closer to understanding --

GRAVES: Yes, so I can give an update about that. And there's maybe a little bit of misunderstanding or miscommunication. The system actually worked as designed. So an alert was sent out by the U.S. Geological Survey. The app for the city of L.A. is setup with various thresholds. The first threshold is a magnitude 5 earthquake or greater in L.A. county. It will send out an alert.

This earthquake was outside of L.A. County so it didn't satisfy that condition. The other condition is intensity greater than 4. The intensities in L.A. were 3 and lower. So the app performed as designed. It's just that the intensity levels were below that threshold that had been set by the app. So the system actually worked as designed. It's something that we need to look into, though, as to whether maybe that threshold should be lowered or adjusted for the future.

And just to reiterate, though, there was no -- the level of shaking within the city of L.A. was not damaging. So in that sense the app was -- worked as designed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It had worked with the levels set correctly or --

GRAVES: Well, they were set --


GRAVES: Lower, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would we have seen on the app?

GRAVES: So for example, if it had been 3, intensity 3, then people would have got notification to expect shaking. I don't know the exact wording on the app but there would have been a significant number -- JONES: About 45 seconds.

GRAVES: Yes, 45 seconds before the shaking actually arrived. So the alert would have worked beautifully in that sense. But, again, the shaking levels would not have been damaging. Certainly it would have been great, you know, to kind of know ahead of time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does it have a sound or is it like a text? What is it?

GRAVES: I'm actually not sure.

JONES: The threshold is set high enough it's never gone off on my computer or my phone. So I am not completely sure. I think they may be using -- they were going to be using a chiming alert that's used in Japan, but there was some -- I'm not sure which one they ended up using.

GRACES: Yes, yes, so --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mention the issue to not lower the levels is simply because you don't want to start getting so many alerts people don't start pay attention when they get them?

GRAVES: Right, and this is something that's actually been studied.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could you explain that for people who didn't hear that question?

GRAVES: OK. So just to repeat, the question was or the reason why potentially that the alert level isn't set lower is so that you don't have a large number of alerts with minimal shaking. And that is correct, and this is a subjective judgment. And so in designing the app you have to make a decision on that. There's actually been a fair amount of research looking into this and other places like Japan and Mexico, and there's some sense that people don't mind getting an alert even if the shaking is not that severe.

And which would have been the case here if it had been set to intensity 3. So this is something that maybe we need to -- you know, again, maybe needs to be looked at, tweaked on the system. Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Sorry. Just to so clarify because there had been some talk of two earthquakes today. So if you could just run through that.

JONES: OK. There have been hundreds of earthquakes today. For a while the website showed two magnitude 6.4s. So the way the system works is there's a lot of us recording earthquakes around the world. We have a system that if somebody else puts up an alert and, you know, there's always the chance that the great Pasadena earthquake means we aren't giving out anything, so you want to have somebody else be able to say if we're not here.

And so there's a system to try and negotiate that. There was a warning, we think it was from the Tsunami Warning Center actually. And the timing, usually the system can recognize they're the same earthquake. If one of the systems gets the time a little off, then they look like different earthquakes and the automatic system allows it to go in. So for a short time there were two alerts, one from us, one from the Tsunami Warning Center and when we recognized it was there, we went in and cleaned it up.

That was not getting rid of an earthquake. By the way, I've heard the conspiracy theorists about that. It's just we cleaned it up.

GRAVES: Right. And just to clarify additionally we had just been talking about two faults and so forth. That's still the case. That's not two one-point issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the second fault have a name that Little Lake --

JONES: We're not -- not until we get a geologist on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Occasionally, there are reports about faults that we did not know about.

JONES: We know a lot of faults in this area. I mean just if you look again at the picture --

GRAVES: Just disappeared.

[15:45:00] JONES: Which just disappeared on us. If we could maybe just reload the page I would guess. But look up in that area, there's lots of little marks on the -- it's one of the areas with a dense distribution of mapped faults. So before I'm going to talk about an unknown fault, I need a geologist to say how does this line up with the ones we know about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it relevant? That there are --

JONES: Not to us. I think it's a psychological issue. If it's an unknown fault, my god, then we've -- we didn't know, and makes it scarier. The reality is we have a lot of little faults that never get names because they're too small until you get an earthquake.

GRAVES: Yes, we lost our earthquake scare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this one particularly strong for that area?

JONES: This earthquake is the largest in the Little Lake area in the last century. But in general the Owens Valley, the sort of geologic structures up there have had a lot of earthquakes like this. There was actually a 7.5 in 1872 that's usually called the Independence Earthquake or sometimes just the Owens Valley Earthquake. Mammoth historically has had dozens of magnitude 6s.

That area, largest earthquake in a hundred years. Does that make it unusual? No. From geology we need to look at millennia to say what standard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once geologists are there how long does it take for them to gather information?

JONES: Well. We're waiting for the picture to show up. I mean, they'll take a picture and send it to us, and go, look it, there's the fault offset. There's one level at which its simple. The geologists presuming there are fault offsets will probably be mapping it in detail over the next month.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are there any trucks or helicopters?

JONES: We don't have enough money to send helicopters. They're in trucks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The National Guard does. I really don't know how you guys do that.

JONES: Yes, no, not the geologists. Look at our budget some time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But they're en route?

GRAVES: They are en route. And as soon as we have information, you know, regarding fault offsets or anything like that we'll provide it hopefully within the next briefing or so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And since we don't have any pictures yet, can you again sort of illustrate what that's going to look like, what a seismologist would want to take a photo of?

GRAVES: Yes, so we're speculating a little bit here in that we don't --

JONES; You think?

GRAVES: We don't know yet if this fault actually ruptured to the ground surface. And magnitude 6.4s in California sometimes break all the way to the ground surface and sometimes don't. So until we actually have some definitive information, if it did break up to the ground surface, what we should see is where two sides of the ground that were close together have slid horizontally relative to each other. And there may be some vertical displacements as well but given the information that we have recorded, the seismographs, it looks like the offset on the fault as it's broken to the surface, will be that horizontal strike slip motion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How does that information help you?

GRAVES: Well, obviously if in terms of damage, if you have a pipeline or structure that straddles that fault and it moves sideways, that could be very devastating. I don't know if that's the case here, again. Also in terms of the ground shaking that was experienced in the Ridgecrest area, Lucy was talking before how the earthquake started off to the northeast and propagated to the southwest towards Ridgecrest. With this type of horizontal motion that actually can be amplified.

Again until we actually get some more definitive information from some folks there, I can't be sure about that. But it is a possibility.

JONES: Also, we now do a better job of correlating what we get from our instruments with what is recorded in the ground. It used to be we needed the geologists in the field to tell us what happened on the fault and in fact the details, we get more details by walking down that fault than we'll ever get from an instrument. We now over many years of recording them and comparing them, we have a guess that that magnitude 6.4 is partially a statement of how much slip happened, how much one side with respect to the other.

[15:50:00] And at that magnitude with this fault length, it's under a meter but a half a meter to -- so a couple feet. So it's a potentially pretty big offset. The question is whether it's confined at depth or whether it made it up to the surface. And there have been hypotheses that if it comes to the surface you get a different shaking pattern than if it doesn't. Not everyone agrees with that hypothesis and so that's an interesting piece of scientific testing that can go on because of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your knowledge of this fault in terms of how deep the fault it is?

JONES: Most faults -- well, we don't. Right. If it is because we don't even know what fault it is yet. If it is the Little Lake fault that fault is mapped at the surface. That means at some previous earthquake it's come to the surface. Most earthquakes begin about 5 to 10 miles below a surface. There is not enough confining pressure. By the way, if a fault could open you can't have the earthquake, right, because the earthquake is shaking just like snapping your fingers. Try snapping your fingers when they've opened up.

You don't make a sound. Right? And if the fault opens up you wouldn't be producing any shaking. And at the surface, you know, it's not as confined. So the earthquakes happened deeper down. So most faults in California extend at least from -- if we map it at the surface, it probably goes at least 10 miles down and probably more than that, and just as it gets deeper down, it behaves differently.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of ancient volcanic history with Little Lake, correct?

JONES: Not so but Little Lake is a volcanic region, there are some active volcanics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, the cinder cone --

JONES: Yes, well, and the China Lake Weapons Center runs a geothermal plant there. So there's magma at depth, there's molten rock at depth which has been used to tap for geothermal energy. So it's potentially volcanic area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you say was your prediction as a likelihood of a quake above 6.4?

JONES: Nine percent, and over the next week. And if get through a day then it will be a lot lower. It's not an even thing over a week. The most likely time is right now. And as we see actually, well, we aren't at the moment. Oh, OK. The rate of aftershocks is substantial lower now than it was in the first briefing, right, so these things do die off really quickly with time. Any other questions? Wrap it up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you back at 1:30 or 2:00?

JONES: At 2:00 at this point we'll come back and see if we have some more information.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And just super quickly, sorry, you mentioned the China Lake Naval Weapons Station and you've been saying they're probably the highest in the Ridgecrest and China Lake area. Are you hearing of any damage at that naval weapons station?

JONES: Remember, damage does not get reported to us. We had a phone call with OES, and the only thing they told was about structure fires in Ridgecrest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, and I heard about a water main break in San Bernardino. Any idea is that's related?

JONES: It could be. Improbable, but -- if it did, it was already in bad shape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, well, San Bernardino is old.

BALDWIN: All right. So listening to those seismologists, Tom Sater, my takeaway is that there is still a chance of another big quake, but the issue is it's impossible to predict the timing.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and she mentioned that. She wouldn't be surprised if we had a 5.4, 5.5 that could do some more damage. And you know, if you go back and look at all the earthquakes in history and all the data we've received, that's pretty much right on. And I'll show you.

What I thought was interesting, though, Brooke, a reporter asked about -- well, we thought maybe there were two large quakes. And that goes back to about a half hour ago when we were talking about discrepancy, instead of 10:33, 10:35, instead of 5 miles deep, 2 and a half. So we've got that cleared up. That it's only one. But when she talked about it not being the San Andreas Fault as reported earlier and it is well east, where there's all these smaller faults. The picture she showed looked exactly like what you would see in central Italy.

Some of the of course earthquakes we've covered there, they have a whole network of smaller quakes.

BALDWIN: Look at that. Look at that roadway.

[15:55:00] SATER: There you go. You know, we should mention this though too, because if we see, and if you look at this, when you have a 6.4 magnitude quake, typically you'll have at least one aftershock that's 5.4 or greater. That's what she was talking about. Sure there could be 100-plus that are 3.4 or higher. So to anyone if they have power in Ridgecrest or the surrounding area, if you've got power and you know, maybe, inspecting your home you see a pretty large crack in the plaster or the sheet rock or across your ceiling, you may not want to stay for the evening if it's significant.

Now it doesn't mean anything is going to happen even with a 5.4, but really, I can't not stress this enough, Brooke, that there could be more damage if we get this aftershock in the next 24 hours.

BALDWIN: Tom, hang with me. I want a quick conversation with Sara and then I'm going to come back to you. Sara Sidner, I think it's also important to -- last time we talked, and I remember talking to the mayor of Ridgecrest and she was saying as she was speaking to me through that aftershock. She was, Brooke, I'm seeing a lot of ambulances actually outside. And then you were reporting that the local hospital got evacuated.

SIDNER: Yes. And this is one of the things that all emergency crews and hospitals train for generally speaking, that if there's an event where they have to do this and they have to do triage outside that hospital, if they feel that it is safer for the patients outside of the hospital because of the structural issues, they may believe there's structural issues generally, and they want to get those patients to a safe place, that is what they do.

They try do to do it as quickly as possible, but that is a huge event if indeed they are evacuating the entire regional hospital there. That is the hospital there that serves the whole are there at Ridgecrest. So that's significant. I do want to also point you to some new images that we are seeing coming in from social media. There's an image of a highway, there's a crack straight through that highway. You see this a lot when earthquakes happen, the movement underneath the soil there can create quite a bit of damage.

We've also have seen and heard from a lot of folks that said, hey, look at the local grocery store, at the local stores in our area. Stuff is flying off the shelves. And there's images of that now coming into CNN from social media as well, where you see cans and bottles and things flying off the shelves. And again, this is where people often get hurt, from things falling on them. Brooke.

BALDWIN: Sara Sidner, you've been excellent. We'll continue to watch your reporting --

SIDNER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: -- in the coming hours. Thank you in Los Angeles. I want to play this quick clip for you. This is Senator Kamala Harris, who, as you know, is in this Democratic Presidential race. She stopped and paused today. She's California, albeit from Northern California but she stopped to comment on this earthquake.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you familiar with what happened?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, on the earthquake, listen, this is -- first of all, thankfully nobody has been hurt. And I always praise and have to praise our first responders who immediately take action to make sure that people are safe and we can mitigate whatever damage occurs. But we have a good first responders and good, strong response in California. So thankfully nobody is hurt.


BALDWIN: So that was Senator Harris on the trail there in Iowa. Tom Sater, I'm coming back to you, I've got three minutes left in my show. I'm just mindful again, a lot of folks who don't have power, it's hot, and at least they have loved ones around, because it's a holiday. And most folks don't have to work. But soon enough it will be nightfall --


BALDWIN: -- and no power. That's an issue.

SATER: Well, it's 90 degrees right now at the hospital. And the forecast is for 100. So they're going to have to get into some shelter. Here's the shake map as far as what we have seen in the last week. It's hard to see all the little dots of yellow, hundreds of them in the last week where we've been seeing tremors, in fact there's been concern over the last couple weeks about the swarms that have been building in California.

Let's get in close. The color of orange is in the last 24 hours. When we get in closer, the color of red is just in the last hour. So, again, let's get in closer, there's Bakersfield. You're going to start to see the swarm. This is everything from today. All these red dots are just in the last hour. And she noticed two little areas, one from the main quake that goes to the southwest. Here's Ridgecrest. So very close. In fact one was within five miles, and the other one that is moving northwest.

With these very small quakes, Brooke, if the energy is not all released in that first magnitude quake, that 6.4, the small quakes will almost like burp and try to release this energy throughout the next couple of days, I mean it would last weeks. So, we're hoping and praying that all the of the energy hopefully was released in that initial 6.4, if it was not, we could see a stronger quake, and that does happen in regions like this, like I mentioned in central Italy where there is all these smaller quakes. So let's hope that's not the point here. But again that aftershock of at least a 5.4 or greater is possible in the next 24 hours.

BALDWIN: And again just estimating 30 more seconds, how many aftershocks so far? Dozens?

[16:00:00] SATER: We're over 60. I haven't seen quite a swarm like this, even in Indonesia or Japan, they'll have them but I've never seen them this many in an hour or two. I mean that's really something. There's a lot of activity.

BALDWIN: OK. Tom Sater, thank you so much. And thank you for being with me the last two hours. To all of you on this Fourth of July, you know, in covering the 6.4 magnitude quake, epicenter in Ridgecrest, and as I spoke with the mayor there, as she was on the phone with me experiencing one of those aftershocks. I think one of the biggest takeaways from her is if you're OK and you're in your home, and you are with your loved ones, go next door, go check on your neighbor. Make sure he or she is OK and I know it's easier said than done, but she said to try not to panic.

I'm Brooke Baldwin, thank you for being with me. Happy Fourth of July to all of you watching but keep it right here with CNN. We're going to continue this coverage with Dana Bash. "THE LEAD" starts right now.