LOS ANGELES — The two Southern California desert communities rocked by last week’s powerful earthquakes may have sustained as little damage as they did because they have no tall buildings and many of the homes in one are fairly new and were built to stricter earthquake standards.
California’s Seismic Safety Commission Chairman Michael Gardner said during the agency’s Thursday meeting that the tallest building he knows of in the Mojave Desert towns of Ridgecrest and Trona is the three-story Ridgecrest hospital.
The region was struck by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake on July 4, followed by a 7.1 temblor the next day.
Many of Ridgecrest’s 28,000 residents work at the nearby China Lake Naval Weapons Center.
The nearby mining town of Trona, with a population of about 2,000, was harder hit. Commissioners noted many of its buildings are older.
Authorities estimated the damage to both towns at about $100 million, although that could go up as buildings continue to be evaluated.
Commissioner Kit Miyamoto said that as inspectors entered some buildings they discovered serious damage to ceilings and other areas that they couldn’t see from the outside.
“Three buildings from the exterior appeared to be fine and probably safe for entry, but upon further investigation the roofs had actually collapsed,” he said, adding inspectors may find others in that condition.
Gardner said commissioners are also waiting for more information from the Naval base, where security is tight.
Miyamoto noted that many of Ridgecrest’s homes were built in the 1980s and ’90s of more earthquake-resistant materials.
In Trona, where many fireplace chimneys collapsed and other damage was recorded.
Buildings flooded when water heaters toppled over and ruptured gas lines sparked fires, and roads, highways and sidewalks also buckled.
Trona also lost all of its water for several days when a pipeline carrying it from Ridgecrest ruptured. It was restored Thursday, but San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert said a “boil order” remains in place while water lines are being flushed. Meanwhile, free water was being distributed to residents.