Two major earthquakes with magnitudes of 6.4 and 7.1 and series of small temblors near Ridgecrest, Calif., over the Fourth of July weekend not only disrupted everyday life for the town and surrounding area but also ceased most operations at the massive Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake 325 miles southwest of Fallon.
Yet, one of the leading earthquake experts in Nevada notes similarities between the Ridgecrest earthquakes and a series of temblors that rocked Churchill County during the last six months of 1954. Coincidentally, the two Ridgecrest earthquakes occurred almost 65 years to the date after two powerful temblors struck east of Fallon.
Dr. Craig de Polo, an expert earthquake geologist with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology and the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno, said the magnitude of the earthquakes and similarity of them occurring in pairs concerns him. On July 6, 1954, an earthquake with a magnitude 6.2 jolted the area early in the morning, and de Polo said it had a 3-foot right-lateral strike-slip, similar to the Ridgecrest temblors. Eleven hours later, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake occurring in the Rainbow Mountain area Fairview Peak struck.
“There was a lot of damage to the canal system, and the first federal emergency declaration for a disaster was issued,” de Polo said.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared Churchill County a disaster area and the federal government provided $200,000 for disaster relief funding.
“It was a critical time of the year to finish the canal repair, he added.
According to a report on the seismic activity, “Canals and drainage systems of the Newlands Reclamation Project near Fallon were damaged extensively. Many box-type culverts were damaged or collapsed. Failure of the Coleman Diversion Dam cut off irrigation water to most of the project. Paved highways in the Fallon-Stillwater areas settled, cracked, and buckled in several places. One of the largest ground movements occurred in the Lone Tree area.”
The Naval Auxiliary Air Station southeast of Fallon also reported several injuries when heavy steel lockers fell on them.
In Fallon, de Polo said 23 of 50 buildings in town suffered damage.
On Aug. 23, 1954, an earthquake occurring near Stillwater with a magnitude 6.8 caused an additional 33 miles of surface rupture, and de Polo said it was right-lateral strike-slip. According to de Polo, construction crews were able to fix and damage in the canal system because heavy equipment was already in place because of the two earlier earthquakes.
The three earthquakes caused considerable damage in Fallon to numerous commercial buildings and houses.
Another double earthquake occurred on Dec. 16 with the temblors mapped in the Dixie Valley-Fairview Peak area. At 3:07 a.m. de Polo said a magnitude 7.1 earthquake occurred near Fairview Peak and Less than 5 minutes later, a magnitude 6.9 shook Dixie Valley. The first earthquake ruptured the ground for 40 miles with both normal dip-slip and right-lateral strike-slip motion, and the second, he said, caused a 28-mile surface rupture.
Nevada hadn’t recorded a powerful earthquake until February 2008 when a 6.0 magnitude temblor struck Wells, causing considerable damage to the historic downtown area facing the railroad tracks, several old buildings including city hall and the high school gym. A cluster of earthquakes in late 2016 shook western Nevada and eastern California and caused damage to the ghost town of Bodie, Calif. During the first 90 minutes of seismic activity on Dec. 28, the U.S. Geological Survey reported more than 25 earthquakes, including a pair of magnitude 5.7 temblors and another at 5.5. U.S. Geological Survey maps and the Nevada Seismological Lab placed much of the activity about 14 miles due east of Bodie.
The NAWS reports the installation will remain Mission Essential Personnel (MEP) until a separate and later notification revokes MEP access control policy.
Naval Air Station Fallon spokesman Zip Upham said he’s received information that many of the structures suffered moderate to minor damage, but engineers will have to assess each building from the foundation to the roof. Particularly hit hard were the commissary and chapel. The commissary’s ceiling tiles crashed to the floor, and products on the shelves were flung on the floors and scattered across aisles. Cracks ripped open a chapel wall and damaged religious figurines. Services have been suspended.
An advisory from NAWS reported “buildings on base continue to undergo a strict Naval Facilities Engineering Command detailed assessment process via a systematic process resulting in completion of approximately 30% of the over 1,000 buildings on the installation as of morning 12 July.”
Upham said fissures have split roads at China Lake and the shifting soil has snapped gas lines. Kern County officials have trucked in bottled water in addition to portable showers, and the California Army National Guard provided other vital assistance. He said NAS Fallon has not been requested to assist with the cleanup efforts.
De Polo said the dual earthquakes from 1954 and Ridgecrest showed similarities with the reported damage and ruptures. He added seismologists have noted increased earthquake activity near Ridgecrest since the first one struck earlier this month. A number of smaller earthquakes have also occurred near Pahrump during the past three weeks, and de Polo confirmed a Pahrump man became the Nevada first earthquake fatality when an aftershock from the Ridgecrest activity caused a car to fall on him as he was working underneath it.
Over the years, Upham said military personnel and civilian workers have worked at both installations. Upham said both NAS Fallon and the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center coordinate their activities with the China Lake facility on weapons use.
“They (China Lakes) do weapons testing and development,” Upham pointed out. “We interface with them on the technical parts.”
China Lake’s mission supports research, testing and evaluation programs of the U.S. Navy and is part of Navy Region Southwest, which includes Fallon. “The installation is the Navy’s largest single landholding, representing 85% of the service’s land for weapons and armaments research, development, acquisition, testing and evaluation (RDAT&E) use and 38% of the Navy’s worldwide land holdings.”
Upham said earthquakes are a concern for the military. NAS Fallon conducts periodic earthquake drills and reviews plans as do other military installations located in earthquake-prone area. The last major earthquake drill in western Nevada occurred in June 2008. Vigilant Guard 2008 included civilian and government agencies from all levels, NAS Fallon, the Nevada National Guard, the U.S. Army Reserve and Creech Air Force Base both of Las Vegas.
The earthquake activity serves as a reminder of what to do in case of earthquakes. The LVN ran this list after the last cluster of earthquakes struck in 2016.
Do you know how to prepare for and survive a major earthquake? According to the California Department of Conservation scientists, it will be critical to have the right answer to that question sometime in the coming years. Many people think having bottled water on hand is a good idea. That’s true, as long as you have enough. Many are certain that standing in a doorway during the shaking is a good idea. That’s false, unless you live in an unreinforced adobe structure; otherwise, you’re more likely to be hurt by the door swinging wildly in a doorway or trampled by people trying to hurry outside if you’re in a public place.
Electricity, water, gas and telephones may not be working after an earthquake. The police and fire departments are likely to be tied up. You should be prepared to fend for yourself for at least three days, preferably for a week.
You’ll need food and water (a gallon a day per person); a first aid kit; a fire extinguisher suitable for all types of fires; flashlights; a portable radio; extra batteries, blankets, clothes, shoes and money (ATMs may not work); medication; an adjustable or pipe wrench to turn off gas or water, if necessary; baby and pet food; and an alternate cooking source (barbecue or camp stove). This list can also be applied to other disasters, such as floods or wildfires.
It’s also a good idea to decide beforehand how and where your family will reunite if separated during a quake and to conduct in-home practice drills. You might choose an out-of-the-area friend or relative that family members can call to check on you.
Securing water heaters, major appliances and tall, heavy furniture to prevent them from toppling are prudent steps. So, too, are storing hazardous or flammable liquids, heavy objects and breakables on low shelves or in secure cabinets.
Discuss earthquake insurance with your agent. Depending on your financial situation and the value of your home, it may be worthwhile.
DURING AN EARTHQUAKE
If you’re indoors, stay there. Get under — and hold onto –a desk or table, or stand against an interior wall. Stay clear of exterior walls, glass, heavy furniture, fireplaces and appliances. The kitchen is a particularly dangerous spot. If you’re in an office building, stay away from windows and outside walls and do not use the elevator.
If you’re outside, get into the open. Stay clear of buildings, power lines or anything else that could fall on you.
If you’re driving, move the car out of traffic and stop. Avoid parking under or on bridges or overpasses. Try to get clear of trees, light posts, signs and power lines. When you resume driving, watch out for road hazards.
If you’re in a mountainous area, beware of the potential for landslides. Likewise, if you’re near the ocean, be aware that tsunamis are associated with large earthquakes. Get to high ground.
If you’re in a crowded public place, avoid panicking and do not rush for the exit. Stay low and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
AFTER AN EARTHQUAKE
Check for fire or fire hazards. If you smell gas, shut off the main gas valve. If there’s evidence of damage to electrical wiring, shut off the power at the control box.
If the phone is working, only use it in case of emergency. Likewise, avoid driving if possible to keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles.
Be aware that items may fall out of cupboards or closets when the door is opened, and also that chimneys can be weakened and fall with a touch. Check for cracks and damage to the roof and foundation of your home.
Listen to the radio for important information and instructions. Remember that aftershocks, sometimes large enough to cause damage in their own right, generally follow large quakes.
If you leave home, leave a message telling friends and family your location.