Sheriff praises first responders, community after massive earthquakes

Sen. Grove gives report on relief efforts, plans Trona Town Hall for July 10

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Sheriff praises first responders, community after massive earthquakesKern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who already made one trip to Ridgecrest following last week’s historic earthquakes, told his listeners Tuesday at the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce that now the world knew what he and State Sen. Shannon Grove already knew — “where Ridgecrest is!”

Youngblood was already scheduled to be speaker, but Grove stopped by during a visit to the Ridgecrest and Trona areas, where she and her staff have been helping coordinate relief efforts for those impacted by the earthquakes.

“It’s been a rough week,” acknowledged Youngblood. He said that he felt Thursday’s 6.4 earthquake in Alta Sierra. A few minutes later, he received a call from Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin. “As soon as I saw my caller ID I knew where the earthquake had hit.”

Youngblood said he offered whatever assistance he could provide to McLaughlin, who asked first for a helicopter to conduct an aerial survey to determine gas leaks and other major damage.

Since one was already staged in Kern River Valley, it arrived in the Indian Wells Valley only 20 minutes after the first quake.

Over the next few days, as many as 35 deputies were on the ground in Ridgecrest.

Youngblood said that in the very beginning people began expressing concerns about looting in the aftermath.

“I said, ‘With an earthquake anywhere else in the world, you are correct. But not with Ridgecrest.’ And I was right.”

RPD reported two incidents of theft since the initial incident. “But any other city this size you would have had a lot more people taking advantage of the disaster.”

Youngblood said that because of the way the mutual aid system operates, the state will pay for sheriff, fire department or any other resources sent to Ridgecrest to assist during the declared emergency.

“We had a fantastic response from our organization,” said Youngblood, who noted that deputies were deployed directly from home. “And they were happy to do it.”

He attributed some of that to Kern County’s proactive stance in gathering agencies together each month to plan and coordinate responses in the event of disasters or other emergencies.

“We have relationships in Kern County that no one else has, and we are all pretty proud of that.”

He brought out a prop to show to the audience the bag he keeps in his car at all times. “This contains everything you need in an emergency.”

Among the most important items are those for administering basic first aid.

“First responders cannot get to hundreds of people immediately, so these kits will help you save lives,” he said. People can access information about anything from CPR to how to stop bleeding on the internet now, he said. “You might need to be your neighbor’s first responder.”

Families should also have a plan for what to do in the event of a disaster — particularly factoring in how to reunite if separated, and how to communicate if cell service is disrupted.

He urged property owners to learn how to turn off their own gas, water and electricity — which could help reduce property damage, protect from explosions and save lives.

As bad as the damage was in Ridgecrest, Youngblood noted that there were no serious injuries. “Anyplace else, a 7.1 would have been catastrophic.”

Youngblood also praised the response from elected officials — not just those based in Kern County, including House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Assemblyman Vince Fong, Sen. Grove and Supervisor Mick Gleason — but Gov. Gavin Newsom, who visited Saturday, and President Donald Trump, who declared a state of emergency last night.

“Say what you want about this president, he is engaged,” he said. “I cannot say enough about how the White House has handled this disaster for the small little community of Ridgecrest.”

Despite the bad news, Youngblood said that there are opportunities to bring to light other challenges in the valley — including water.

“I’m not talking about leaking pipes. I’m talking about water for building a future.”

The sheriff also commended McLaughlin for his performance as incident commander of such a large-scale disaster.

“I said to Jed, ‘I’m not going to interfere unless you turn it over to me, but I think you’ve got this.’ And he did. He absolutely had this. Any other chief would have said, ‘Take this!’”

Still, said Youngblood, “We have not lost sight of the fact that this might not be over with. But as time passes, chances of another significant incident get smaller and smaller.”

Youngblood addressed a comment from the audience about what can be done to help Trona. While community leaders and elected officials of Indian Wells Valley have been quite high-profile in their responses to the earthquake, many have been concerned that Trona — which went days without power and water, and was considerably farther away from the Red Cross Shelter — was not getting the help it needed.

However, numerous individuals, services clubs and businesses owners — some from Ridgecrest, others from all over the western United States — had donated water, food, showers, portapotties, toiletries and other supplies to the suffering residents in Searles Valley.

“We are really, really fortunate to have a representative in Sacramento like Shannon Grove,” said Youngblood.

The state senator announced today that she is also hosting a Town Hall meeting Wednesday, July 10, in Trona, set for 10 a.m. at Trona High School, where officials from the state and county will be on hand to answer questions and determine what needs remain unmet.

“One thing I don’t want to forget is that we had a governor – a democratic governor – come to Ridgecrest,” said Youngblood. “I don’t think that has ever happened before.”

He said he comes to Ridgecrest more often than any other city. “It’s my favorite city. It’s like going home.”

He said he tells other sheriffs he has a city with a population of 30,000 with no graffiti and no gangs, “and they don’t believe me!”

Story First Published: 2019-07-10