SEARLES VALLEY — Hope, gratitude, community, resilience and a little bit of frustration are the buzzwords in the Searles Valley after a pair of earthquakes rocked the area.
On Sunday morning, Eric Cartmell sits on the porch of his home on 4th Street in Argus with two of his neighbors and his dog while his son Gunnar volunteers at New Hope of Searles Valley Foursquare Church. Cartmell owns three other nearby homes which he rents out. All homes have significant damage from the earthquakes and are now uninhabitable.
“We need people, man,” he said. “The governor put out an emergency in Ridgecrest and this is called the Searles Valley freakin’ earthquake and they don’t even say enough about here. I heard it was on the news that Trump is the one that said what about San Bernardino? So Trump, even though a lot of people don’t like him, ol’ Trump’s the one that said it. We had no water here yesterday. We had nothing. It was bad.”
Cartmell said he also heard that people in Ridgecrest were quick to remind others that the Searles Valley residents needed help as well.
“I’m just glad to the people in Ridgecrest talked,” he said. “We’re just tired, this is No Man’s Land.”
Due to injuries suffered on the job at Searles Valley Mineral, Cartmell says he can’t walk and depends on income from the rentals.
“This house right here, it’s a foot over from where it was,” he said. “I can’t fix crap, man. So I I kind of depend on Gunnar and all these other guys. Yeah, I mean, shoot, man. I guess it’s overwhelming. Yeah, I’m in a bad way.”
A family friend is letting the Cartmell’s sleep in a fifth-wheel travel trailer that they’ve parked in the driveway.
Back down at the Foursquare Church, Gunnar Cartmell said he just dragged his mattress out of his room and put in the back of his truck. In addition to volunteering as a youth leader at the church, he works for the local water company.
“After the 6.4 we fixed about eight mainline leaks,” he said. “We’d just started getting the water boosted back up over here. I’d just got home from work and then that 7.1 hit and then the mainline got completely shut off, the mainline carrying it from Ridgecrest to here.”
Gunnar Cartmell was philosophical about the nearly back to back earthquakes taking a toll on lines that had just been repaired.
“It is what it is,” he said. “You can’t really mess with Mother Nature. If it hits, it hits. It’s kind of upsetting, but oh well. At least we’re safe.”
Meanwhile, Pastor Jon Goebel is helping direct donation efforts.
“We had guys from Orange County, Yorba Linda/Anaheim area that came up and brought water,” he said. “And then they brought the help. I mean they were physically here to offload this stuff and then load it into families’ vehicles. I mean, what a blessing that was.”
Husband and wife team Glyn and Jena Jones drove through from in Hilldale, Utah with a trailer full of supplies. The couple are campus directors for the Short Creek Dream Center - a faith based community, recovery and education program in Hilldale.
“We knew of the Trona Pinnacles, we’d never been here, but we’d heard of it,” said Glyn Jones. “We were watching TV and we heard about the need here. We run a food bank, so we had all this extra food in our warehouse.”
The Jones’ brought about 4,000 pounds of water and food to distribute in the Searles Valley.
“We saw the tweets and the need go out on Facebook that Trona needed some water and some assistance,” said Jena Jones. “We called Ridgecrest and they said they were already getting some donations, so we thought we’ll just come deliver it right to Trona.”
Further up along Trona Road, the San Bernardino County Fire Department Office of Emergency Services had set up a water distribution point at Trona High School and were seeing a steady stream of people seeking help. Members of Community Emergency Reponse Team and Army National Guard Soldiers were assisting with the distribution. Behavioral health specialists were also on hand at the school offering counseling services and an emergency communication center of amateur radio operators had set up shop.
“A Pepsi distributor in Mojave donated six pallets of water,” said Emergency Services Officer Miles Wagner. “That’s 72 cases per pallet and 24 bottles per case. It was just out of the blue and we’re very appreciative.”
In the Pioneer Point area of Trona, First Baptist Church of Searles Valley Pastor Larry Cox was about to start Sunday services under generator power, but feeling fortunate.
“We had no structural damage,” he said. “I mean, we have surface cracks and things like that, but nothing to the structure. So that was a blessing for us.”
Ceiling tiles fell down in the church office and auxiliary building and kitchen area as a result of shaking from the second earthquake. The parsonage, where Cox lives with his family, also suffered only minor damage.
“There are four buildings on the property and other than our kitchen looking a little messed up, we’re good,” he said. “Other than that, we fared quite well, we’re counting our blessings for sure.”
Immediately after the earthquake Cox and other church members fanned out through the community.
“I mean, literally, within a couple minutes after we made sure all power and gas and electric and everything was off here, we got into vehicles and went off in different directions called all of our deacons and had them start checking in on that the the shut ins and the widows and the elderly right away,” he said. “We found out pretty much the same thing everywhere, with some exceptions. There are 40 buildings in town that have had enough significant damage to them to be red tagged. You know, we’ll see how everything fares out with this, but yeah, everybody seems to be fine. We’re quite thankful, quite thankful.”
As they prepared for services, church members were arriving with supplies to donate to those in need.
“We have water. We have cleaning supplies coming in and we are going to see about possibly bringing in food in the week or so to come in case something like that becomes a need,” said Cox. “At this point. I know it’s not a need. And of course the roads are are open so we’re not anticipating that will be a need. But, you know, our (water) tank up there is less than a quarter full right now. So Trona, Westend and Argus are out of water. That’s why the bottle water is going out. And that’s why there was such a push to get it here. We need it much more than Ridgecrest.”
Cox said the community was also thankful for the response by utility companies and others.
“SCE and Caltrans were just marvelous,” he said. “I mean, they were immediately on things, I mean, right away. And we had our power back on, you know, very soon after the earthquake. The roads were impassable, but but Caltrans jumped on it within, I think, four or five hours everybody was able to drive through. Some parts of the road had dropped five feet or more. So that’s really saying something. I mean, we are just so very thankful for them.”