LOS ANGELES (AP) — The two Southern California desert communities rocked by last week's powerful earthquakes may have sustained as little damage as they did because they have no tall buildings and many of the homes in one are fairly new and were built to stricter earthquake standards.
California's Seismic Safety Commission Chairman Michael Gardner said during the agency's Thursday meeting that the tallest building he knows of in the Mojave Desert towns of Ridgecrest and Trona is the three-story Ridgecrest hospital.
The region was struck by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake on July 4, followed by a 7.1 temblor the next day.
Ridgecrest, whose 28,000 residents include many who work at the nearby China Lake Naval Weapons Center, is about 150 miles (241.4 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.
The nearby mining town of Trona, with a population of about 2,000, was harder hit. Commissioners noted many of its buildings are older.
Authorities estimated the damage to both towns at about $100 million, although that could go up as buildings continue to be evaluated.
Commissioner Kit Miyamoto said that as inspectors entered some buildings they discovered serious damage to ceilings and other areas that they couldn't see from the outside.
"Three buildings from the exterior appeared to be fine and probably safe for entry, but upon further investigation the roofs had actually collapsed," he said, adding inspectors may find others in that condition.
Gardner said commissioners are also waiting for more information from the Naval base, where security is tight.
Miyamoto noted that many of Ridgecrest's homes were built in the 1980s and '90s of more earthquake-resistant materials.
"As we know, newer California houses hold up really well," he said.
That was not so much the case in Trona, where many fireplace chimneys collapsed and other damage was recorded.
Buildings flooded when water heaters toppled over and ruptured gas lines sparked fires, and roads, highways and sidewalks also buckled.
Trona also lost all of its water for several days when a pipeline carrying it from Ridgecrest ruptured. It was restored Thursday, but San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert said a "boil order" remains in place while water lines are being flushed. Meanwhile, free water was being distributed to residents.
Other utilities to both towns have been restored, and Gardner said a local assistance center opened in Ridgecrest on Thursday.
The commission itself plans to meet in Ridgecrest next month.
No one in the area was killed, although authorities believe the quake may have taken the life of a man in the small Nevada town of Pahrump, 180 miles (289.7 kilometers) away.
Troy Ray, 55, of Pahrump was killed when his jack slipped as he was working underneath his car. The shaking from one of the quakes felt from Las Vegas to Los Angeles might have caused the jack to slip, although authorities noted they couldn't be sure.
Separately Thursday, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and California Earthquake Authority CEO Glenn Pomeroy urged residents statewide to consider buying earthquake insurance that they said could be tailored to meet homeowners' and renters' individual needs and pocketbooks.
Contrary to some reports, they said the insurance is available everywhere in California. But new policies won't cover damage resulting from aftershocks related to the series of quakes that began July 4 until 15 days have elapsed.
Associated Press Writer Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this story.