Shortly after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit portions of Southern California July 5, a team of Indian American hoteliers quickly mobilized to help those most deeply affected by the largest temblor to hit the region in 20 years.
The July 5 earthquake was the second to hit the area in two days: a 6.4 temblor hit July 4. No fatalities or major injuries were reported. Approximately 200 people were rendered homeless and moved to temporary shelters.
But temperatures forecast around 100 degrees and warnings by seismologists that large aftershocks were expected to continue for days — if not weeks — prompted further precautions, reported The Associated Press.
Riverside, Calif., resident Dharmesh ‘Dan’ Patel told India-West that, as he was watching the drama unfold on the news, he said to his wife: “we have to do something to help.”
The past president of the Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir — The Hindu Society of the Inland Empire — sent out messages to about 1,500 Indian Americans in Southern California, aiming to mobilize a support team. On July 7, he and Sailesh Shah, along with volunteers on other teams, went to Ridgecrest and Trona, two towns deeply affected by the quake.
“There are a lot of people living in poverty here who did not have a lot of resources before the earthquakes. Their lives were only made worse,” said Patel.
Patel and Shah decided they would focus on seniors and handicapped people. They first went to the Trousdale Estates mobile home park in Ridgecrest, which has 85 mobile homes over 5 acres.
Nine of the homes were red-tagged: damage was so severe that the residents could not get back in. Patel explained that mobile homes are particularly vulnerable to earthquake damage, as they do not sit on a foundation: only metal rails which move around during seismic incidents.
In one of the first homes they encountered, an elderly gentleman and his daughter could not open the door to their home; the quake had pushed so much material towards the entrance.
Patel put his hand through a gap and pried the door open. Once inside, the volunteers found books, files, belongings strewn all over the dwelling. Patel and Shah spent a couple of hours putting everything back in place so that the senior and his daughter could live in their home again.
“Seniors and disabled people need hands-on help to put their homes back together again,” Patel told India-West.
Patel and Shah next went door to door in nearby Trona, passing out food and gallons of water. They also helped a Syrian American liquor store owner restore the damage to his shop.
The second-generation hotelier said he does a lot of homeless outreach throughout the year, taking boxes of food and water to the increasingly-growing population of people living on the streets. Somedays, he serves cooked food; other days, he gets bags of food and water from McDonalds or Del Taco. And when the mandir has too much food left over after a celebration, Patel boxes it up and takes it out to the street.
“They love it,” Patel told India-West. “They ask me: ‘Dan, when are you going to bring us some of that spicy food?’”
Patel and Shah directly helped about 50 people that day. Patel is now mobilizing teams to go out next weekend to continue the effort. “We should, all of us, as human beings, do what we can to help other human beings.”
“There is homelessness and huge poverty in India, but our home is now here, and this should be our first priority,” he stated.
The Associated Press reports: The California National Guard was sending 200 troops, logistical support and aircraft, said Maj. Gen. David Baldwin. The Pentagon had been notified, and the entire California Military Department was put on alert, he said.
In San Bernardino County, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency amid “conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.”
The California Office of Emergency Services brought in cots, water and meals and set up cooling centers, director Mark Ghilarducci said.
State highway officials shut down a 30-mile section of State Route 178 between Ridgecrest and Trona, due to a rockslide and severe cracking. California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Christine Knadler said crews worked through the night to patch the roadway, but it remained rough and uneven. A $3 million emergency contract had been approved for repairs, she said.
There is about a 1-in-10 chance that another 7.0 quake could hit within the next week, according to Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology and a former science adviser at the U.S. Geological Survey. The chance of a 5.0-magnitude quake “is approaching certainty,” she added.
President Donald Trump said he was fully briefed on the earthquake and that it “all seems to be very much under control!''
There was little likelihood the quake raised the risk of a quake on the mighty San Andreas Fault, the sleeping giant that runs through much of California and is expected to be the source of the feared “Big One,'' the scientists said.
PTI reported: An Indian American owner of a motel in Ridgecrest said July 5 she thought they were not going to survive as the whole roof of the building would collapse on her and the guests.
Speaking to CNN, Pinky Panchal and Niket Aggarwal, who own a Super 8 motel in Ridgecrest, said: "I was checking a customer in and I was at the front desk and we had this little shake at 8:05 so went out, we went back in and right after that what we saw was massive.
"It was the first time I experienced something like this. As such the whole building was going to collapse... people ran out on the road. The sound of earthquake, the whole building was shaking and I felt like the whole roof was going to fall down and it was bad, it was really bad what we experienced, yesterday," she said.
"I just started crying, I just felt whether we are going to survive this or not, and then like every moment I was feeling that it was and we just ran to the Super 8 sign. We and other guests just held each other tight, we were waiting for the shakes to stop," Panchal said.