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'By the grace of God,' no fatalities, only minor injuries following earthquake in Ridgecrest

RIDGECREST — Carmen Morena pulled out a mattress onto her front lawn, dressed it, and laid on top of it after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Ridgecrest on Friday night.

Through a translator, Morena said Saturday she felt safer outside, tucked under the shade of a tree, rather than inside her home. She'd never felt an earthquake quite like this one — it was the strongest one she's experienced, and she's lived in California a long time.

Morena said she was driving home from the store when the earthquake struck, and it terrified her. When she arrived home, she discovered glass littered her floors after picture frames dropped from the walls. Nothing too substantial was damaged, she said. It was an obvious choice for her to stay outside on her mattress in case another earthquake centered nearby.

"By the grace of God" there were only minor injuries and no casualties reported after the second — and more powerful — earthquake centered near Ridgecrest rocked its citizens.

That's according to Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin, who stressed that "it's hard for the world to know what (Ridgecrest has) been through," because the damage, stress and emotional turmoil caused by two large earthquakes doesn't necessarily show in a photo.

Friday's temblor came in at magnitude 7.1, although it was also previously reported at 6.9, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It surpassed Thursday's 6.4 earthquake that took place in what appears to be the same general area.

Thursday's earthquake is now considered a foreshock.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in both Kern and San Berdardino counties.

Newsom said at a news conference Saturday afternoon that he has been in contact with President Donald Trump, who has committed to giving Southern California "whatever you need." 

He also echoed McLaughlin's sentiments that the community is lucky to have suffered minimal damage, considering the size and power of the earthquakes. 

Structures in Ridgecrest remain upright, and although "some have sustained some major damage, they're still standing," McLaughlin said at a news conference Saturday morning.

The dam at Isabella Lake, too, is still standing and in good condition, McLaughlin said. 

Kern County Battalion Chief Dionisio Mitchell said there were three structure fires Friday night and one fire at a mobile home that resulted in a "complete loss."

Newsom said property damage is in the billions of dollars. 

"We've got to be prepared," Newsom said. "This is a wake-up call." 

All rockfall and debris on Highway 178 was cleared by Caltrans after maintenance crews worked through the night. Roads with cracks also were patched overnight but remain rugged and uneven, said Christine Knadler, chief public information officer for Caltrans District 9. Highway 178 is passable, but Knadler urged drivers to use caution. 

The Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake was also evacuated Saturday. The station was deemed "not mission capable." Safety of the station's personnel and family was the highest importance. 

The American Red Cross shelter, located at the Kerr McGee Center in Ridgecrest, will continue to be open and operational so long as people need it. With a capacity of 500, three warm meals a day and air conditioning, the shelter appealed to those who lost power Friday night — which has since come back on, according to KCFD.

Some 163 people were sheltered with the Red Cross Friday night. 

"Please make sure you are prepared," said Mimi Teller, Red Cross public information officer. "As you know, these happen any time when we least expect it." 

Nate Kimbler, a leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ridgecrest, said his house saw a bit of damage — books falling off shelves, for example — but his church in town saw structural damage both inside and out. 

Fallen bricks laid in the grass after tumbling from the steeple of the church. The inside was too dangerous for anyone to enter, Kimbler said. 

"Nobody's going in there," Kimbler said.

A group of churchgoers was getting ready to head to Trona with a trailer full of water bottles, because people in Trona "don't have any water right now," Kimbler said. 

"We've got to help out in some way," Kimbler said. 

Maureen Strode can be reached at 661-395-7491. Follow her on Twitter: @maureenstrode.

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