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Aftershocks Rattle Southern California Following 2 Quakes


Aftershocks continue in Southern California after a massive earthquake last night. The 7.1 magnitude earthquake was the largest to hit the area in decades. People reported feeling it as far away as Phoenix and Baja, Calif. The epicenter was near the town of Ridgecrest, Calif., about a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles. NPR's Nathan Rott is there, and he is with us now.

Nathan, hello. Thanks for being here.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Yeah, happy to be here.

MARTIN: So 7.1 is a massive earthquake.

ROTT: (Laughter).

MARTIN: What's it like in the town?

ROTT: You know, for a town that got jolted by something of that magnitude, it's actually kind of amazingly in pretty good shape. I've seen very little damage driving around - you know, stoplights that aren't working, stores that had their merchandise thrown about. You know, some structures were damaged or destroyed. There were fires caused by ruptured gas pipes and some trailers and trailer parks that were knocked askew.

Some roads are closed from fractures or from rock slides. And authorities do say that some buildings collapsed in the nearby town of about 2,000 people, Trona. But authorities say that so far - knock on wood - there have been no major injuries or reported fatalities.

MARTIN: That's excellent news. But I'd imagine that it's still been pretty scary for residents there. How are people doing?

ROTT: You know, it's a bit of a mixed bag. A lot of the people I've talked to understand that, look - this is Southern California, the land of many, many seismic faults. Earthquakes just kind of come with the territory. But other folks are very shook. You know, I talked to one woman who said she's lived through a lot of earthquakes but has never had anything like what she experienced last night.

And remember - the quake last night was the second major earthquake to hit here in just a couple of days. On July 4, a 6.4 magnitude quake, which is nothing to laugh at, erupted at the exact same spot. So seismologists now say that that was a foreshock to last night's bigger event. And so you add those two things together, and a lot of people are very much on edge. I talked to some folks who slept outside last night in their yards or in the backs of trucks are planning to do that again tonight because they know that this is not over.

Here's Deon Bowman (ph), a man I talked to who is loading up on water and supplies at a local grocery store.

DEON BOWMAN: We know there's still more to come. I mean, nothing has settled. The ground is still shaking as we speak. So, I mean, right now, we're just taking it a day at a time and basically minutes and seconds at a time. I mean, that's all we can do.

ROTT: You know, and he wasn't kidding. Right after I got done talking to him, I was walking back to my car, and there was an aftershock that I kind of felt and waved around a little.

MARTIN: So how long do seismologist expect there to be these kinds of aftershocks?

ROTT: Days, weeks, months. You know, I think Dr. Lucy Jones, who's Southern California's sort of preeminent earthquake expert, said that we could expect to see aftershocks from this earthquake for the next year. Now, the odds of another big 7.0 earthquake are relatively small - at about 3% according to seismologists at Caltech. The odds of a 6.0 were higher at about 25%. But remember, again, this is an earthquake-prone area. A seismologist at a press conference earlier said that this high desert area we're in, the Mojave, used to be known as the earthquake capital of the world. We just, you know, haven't seen one in a while.

MARTIN: So where do people go from here? What do they do, knowing that this isn't over?

ROTT: You know, so local and state authorities are going to continue to check for structural damage in houses, roadways. They're definitely going to keep checking major infrastructure - bridges, dams in the area. None of those have been reported to be damaged at this point. Residents for sure are certainly going to be on high alert for a while. But I - you know, maybe the biggest thing here is that for millions of people, the folks who live in the greater Los Angeles area like me, this might be a real wakeup call that these things do happen and they will happen.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Nathan Rott reporting in Ridgecrest, Calif., where a major earthquake struck last night.

Nathan, thank you.

ROTT: Yeah, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.