Our year since the earthquakes

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Our year since the earthquakesAs citizens of our nation, and the world, collectively muse over the seemingly cataclysmic events of 2020, our community approaches the one-year anniversary of the day our lives were literally and figuratively shaken to the core.

After nearly two decades of relative seismic inactivity in California, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rocked the Searles and Indian Wells valleys on July 4, 2019. The eyes of the nation turned to our remote corner of the desert. The dust had barely settled when the 7.1 hit the following day.

Caltech Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones, one of the celebrities who arose in the crisis, reminded us that earthquakes are a part of Golden State culture, and we should expect the trend to continue. With a 6.5 quake May 15 in Tonopah, a 5.5 here June 3 and a 5.8 in Lone Pine on June 24 — not to mention thousands of discernible aftershocks for those of us in the valley — the sporadic, and occasionally forceful, shaking has indeed become part of our new normal.

A year later, the recovery efforts — as well as ongoing assessments and new discoveries — are still underway. In addition to the repairs to facilities and infrastructure on the city side of our community, China Lake has been granted an unprecedented $3 billion (so far) to rebuild and modernize the significant damage caused by the quakes.

While most of those efforts appear to be moving forward, community leaders note that subsequent disasters have added new layers of turmoil and challenge on top of the earthquake-induced rubble.

In February, a high-flying economy was celebrated here and across the country. By March, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered state mandates locking down the commercial sector, closing schools and keeping all but “essential workers” at home in order to slow spread of the virus. Financial aid trickled in from the federal government to mitigate the economic disruption and loss of income, but not all businesses survived the closure.

For months we limped along, navigating shortages and restrictions and adopting a new “distance learning” model to accommodate thousands of children who were kept home.

In late May, video footage of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers triggered protests and riots across the nation. Demonstrations in our town were peaceful and law-abiding, with the notable exception of anti-cop graffiti that cropped up all over town (though it had no apparent ties to protests, according to investigators.)

In the midst of that we got our 5.5-magnitude reminder that no matter what else is happening in the world, we are still not finished with the earthquakes.

Just in the last week, our community’s low infection rate for COVID-19 has begun to trend steeply upward. Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed to a statewide increase in the positivity rate and re-closed many of the public gathering spots that have just barely reopened.

Over the last few weeks we spoke with community leaders to revisit their earthquake experiences. In the next edition we will share their individual reflections and updates, but those interviewed agreed on one thing: the earthquakes might be viewed by some as a disadvantage — just one more obstacle for us to overcome in a year of enormous challenge. But for many, the demands of the catastrophe were an opportunity to take stock of our resources, refine our processes, and prioritize what matters most to the community we all serve.

More importantly, it gave us a common threat that allowed us to come together and support each other. And with that bond to connect us, we will persevere.

Pictured: Seismologists from U.S. Geological Survey visited China Lake after last year’s earthquakes, which resulted in a 9-foot vertical offset pictured. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2020-07-03