Town Hall updates residents on available resources

More help coming to Trona, mental health providers available for counseling, process set up to expedite home inspections

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Town Hall updates residents on available resources“Where do we go from here?”

Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin, who has served as incident commander for the destructive 6.4 and 7.1 earthquakes, as well as the swarm of aftershocks that accompanied them, opened a Town Hall meeting Sunday afternoon with these words.

He and other public officials gave an overview on what resources are now available — as well as what is coming down the pike — for the hundreds displaced and thousands impacted by the recent disasters.

“This has been, I know, a difficult time for each and every one of you,” said McLaughlin. “It had to be — it was a difficult time for myself and my family, for each and every one of the officers standing around this room and their families.

“We’ve done what we could to protect you from the criminal element, and I think we’ve done a good job,” he said.

In the last two days, RPD has had two reported thefts. In one incident, the property was recovered. But McLaughlin promised to catch both perpetrators.

He also commended the multiple agencies who came to the aid of the Ridgecrest, Trona and Inyokern communities. “The dedicated men and women around this room, wearing whatever color uniform, are here for you and will remain as long as we need them.”

He also thanked the elected officials — including Gov. Gavin Newsom — who came to Ridgecrest in person. He and his team have had calls from every level of government, including the White House, he said.

“It’s time to start recovery,” said McLaughlin. “It’s not only our job to protect you, but to help you get back to some normal way of life — to being okay with getting back into your house and back to work.

“Look, I’m glad that you thought it was safe to sleep in your front yard, sleep in your car. That makes me feel good that you had faith in us to do that. But now I need you to get back into your house.”

He said that it’s time to assess what’s inside people’s homes. Anyone requesting an assessment can send their names, addresses, contact information, type of damage, and an estimated cost to quakedamage@ridgecrest-ca.gov. Those requests will be triaged and followed-up on by a team of inspectors, he said.

A hotline has also been set up at 760-499-5083.

McLaughlin also warned that post-traumatic stress disorder is real, “and we are all suffering from it right now. We have teams coming in that will help us with that as well.”

There is no judgement, he said, in “getting help, getting that extra push we need to get back to a normal life.”

Finally, he urged residents to spend the coming days in preparing for “the next one.” The rule of thumb is having supplies to shelter in place for up to 72 hours.

San Bernardino County Public Information Officer David Wert noted that more water is coming to the Trona communities — which have been without water (among other essential services) since Thursday.

Because many have had difficulty traveling the 20-some miles to the Red Cross shelter in Ridgecrest, Tronans will have free shuttle services from the high school in Searles Valley to the Kerr McGee Center starting tomorrow.

(For a list of comprehensive services provided by the Red Cross and partner agencies, see related post on this page).

Wert encouraged Trona residents to contact San Bernardino County officials to let them know about the issues they face. “We are listening. If there are needs, we need to hear from you.”

He acknowledged that while social media is not for everyone, it is one of the quickest ways to get a response.

“I spent the better part of the day in Trona yesterday,” he said, noting that Supervisor Robert Lovingood was also in attendance. “It was amazing to see how people in that community were helping each other.

“Trona is very much a team, and that more than anything else is what will get you through this.”

A representative of Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery services noted that the department will be providing mental health support during the crisis. “You’ve done an amazing job. You don’t look as panicked as I felt coming in.”

He encouraged residents to stay in communication with their neighbors, and to seek help if they needed it — even those who just need to have a conversation. The KBHR hotline is 800-991-5272. Those seeking counseling can also call College Community Clinic at 760-499-7496.

“For those seeking a higher level of support, call the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital’s Crisis-Stabilization Unit at 760-463-2880.”

Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason said he was glad to see so many engaged in the process. “It’s difficult to see the damage driving down the boulevard, but we know it’s there when you open the door. We know that and we are communicating that to the proper authorities.”

He praised Mayor Peggy Breeden and McLaughlin for their action plan, as well as the many county agencies and to the Red Cross for their assistance.

However, he cautioned, “We are still not out of the woods.”

Eric Kurtz of Pacific Gas & Electric thanked the community for the support they have shown the PG&E staff as they work around the clock to assess systems and protect the safety of the community.

He said that no major issues have been discovered, and the few leaks found have been repaired.

Kurtz also reminded residents who have had their service shut off at the meter — by users, emergency officials or staff, “Please do not turn you own gas back on.” He asked customers to call 800-743-5000 so that a certified staff member could conduct the appropriate safety inspections of house lines and appliances first.

“The Ridgecrest and Trona communities are family, and we take care of each other no matter what happens,” said Assemblyman Vince Fong. “I know there’s a lot of anxiety and worry, but we will make sure services are available here as long as it is necessary.

“This community is very special to me. I will make sure that we do what is necessary to rebuild this community and make it whole again.”

Tracey Reynolds of State Sen. Shannon Grove’s office noted that four semi trucks of water are on their way to the Ridgecrest and Trona communities. Grove has also opened offices in Ridgecrest and Bakersfield to serve her constituents in need through the weekend.

“Over the past few days, residents, families and business owners of California’s 16th Senate District have been put to the test with two massive earthquakes. But our faith in God remains strong as we support each other and move forward,” Grove said in a statement.

“Through it all, residents of Kern and San Bernardino Counties remain resilient and are undeniably strong.”

Field representative Clayton Fowler of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office also came to express support from the congressman, and noted that staffers will be on hand Tuesday at City Hall to hear requests and concerns from the community.

“I can’t say thank you enough,” said Breeden. “We have heroes in this community who have done for others before they have done for themselves.”

Chief among these, she said, is McLaughlin. “In my mind, our largest hero.”

She urged residents to check on their neighbors. She also encouraged neighbors to exchange information for contacts so that families have a way of checking up in the event of future emergencies.

Desert Valleys Credit Union CEO Erin Bruen also announced that their institution has procured $1 million in low-interest loans, up to $1,000 per individual, to help address earthquake damage. More detail on that will be reported as it is made available.

“We are extremely lucky that we did not get as much damage as we could have, and that people rallied,” said City Manager Ron Strand. He also commended public safety responders who were already staged by the time the 7.1 quake it. “We were prepared.”

Pictured: Police Chief Jed McLaughlin and Kern County Fire Department Public Information Officer Andrew Freeborn address a packed-to-capacity City Hall during Sunday’s Town Hall.

Story First Published: 2019-07-07