By John D. Bennett
SEARLES VALLEY - The evidence of devastation from a pair of earthquakes begins well before arriving in the Searles Valley along State Route 178. Just past a sign announcing the elevation of 2,000 feet a small crack in the roadway branches out to larger, deeper fissures in the desert floor.
A small swarm of scientists and civilians have pulled over to get a better look. Just off the north side of the roadway is a ruptured pipe, with water flowing along what is now a small stream bed.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance group was on scent to collect perishable data on the earthquakes.
“This is perishable because people are walking around on it and they’re repairing the road,” said Craig Davis. “When that happens, you lose data on the way the fault ruptures and the effects of the earthquake. I’m trying to document these pipe repairs and the fault rupture around them.”
A series of buckles in the roadway is also visible for those detouring down Randsburg Wash Road. Just beyond the BLM Wild Horse and Burro facility are at least four fissures in the roadway that had yet to be repaired Sunday morning. The fissures also widen and even branch into several fingers as they head out along the desert floor north of the roadway.
Back on SR 178, the first major buckle is about six miles from the San Bernardino County Line. Caltrans personnel were working to repair two large sections of the roadway that had buckled and lifted up several inches. Patched shortly after the first earthquake, the road was pushed up even further with the second quake.
SR 178 was completely shut down for a time, effectively cutting off the Searles Valley communities. By Sunday morning, vehicles were being escorted through and around three repair efforts along a four-mile stretch of roadway.
Arriving in the Searles Valley, the most significant indication of something being wrong is that the Searles Valley Mineral plants all appear to be shut down. Although unable to confirm officially, the plants are designed to automatically shut down some operations in case of an emergency. At least one chimney at the Trona facility had reportedly partially collapsed.
Cracks and buckles on several roads throughout the Searles Valley - including the communities of Trona, Argus and Pioneer Point - also offer testimony to the earthquake effects. Elsewhere, homes had shifted from their foundations, block walls had tumbled down and other homes had cracks and buckled walls. More than 40 homes were reportedly deemed uninhabitable and ordered evacuated.
Power was out in the area for several hours on Sunday but had been restored by afternoon. Water service is also being restored, the process is being taken slowly so as not to cause any additional stress on water lines.
Per Caltrans District 9, controlled traffic will be conducted using a pilot car on SR 178 while work crews conduct permanent repair.