20 Years Since the 7.1 Hector Mine Earthquake Rattled the Coachella Valley

Max Rodriguez

It is 20 years since one of California’s strongest earthquakes, the 7.1 magnitude Hector Mine quake rattled the Mojave Desert with a jolt felt throughout Southern California but what is most remarkable was the minimal damage for a quake of that strength.

In 1999 the fourth strongest earthquake in the last 100-years rocked the Coachella Valley, the epicenter was about 32 miles north of Joshua Tree, however a geologist with California State University San Bernardino said the Hector Mine earthquake would be a household name if it had struck closer to Palm Springs.

Professor Joan Fryxell teaches a natural disaster course at CSUSB, she said the epicenter was in a desolate area, there are no deaths related to the shake and the destruction was mild.

Fryxell said, “How much damage and how many injuries or deaths occur, depends on how densely populated the area is.”

The video rentals were turned up-side-down and grocery store aisles were covered in broken merchandise at Twenty-Nine Palms, the quake was strong enough to be felt as far as Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

The Hector Mine Earthquake hit at 2:46 in the morning, the quake cracked an interstate bridge east of Barstow and it derailed an Amtrak train headed to Los Angeles.

The movement lasted about 10 seconds but it was enough to turn off power at Fantasy Springs and Spotlight 29 Casinos, the buildings were evacuated as debris fell on guests.

The shaking was startling for locals but the damage was not nearly as severe as the destruction from the 6.7 Northridge Earthquake in 1994, if the earthquake had struck closer to Palm Springs it would have been a different story.

Fryxell said, “There’s a population that lives there, so there are a lot more buildings, there are freeways that go through there, there’s infrastructure that runs through there’ some of it’s going to be damaged.”

Fryxell said earthquakes are quickly forgotten since powerful earthquakes are rare and people tend to let their guards down.

“A strong shake that hasn’t happened to you in your lifetime, it’s harder to believe it’s real,” Fryxell said. “Just because you haven’t felt one, your parents haven’t felt one, it doesn’t mean that they’re not coming up.”

The state will prepare for a possible disaster on Thursday, the “Great Shakeout Earthquake Drill” will take place at 10:17 in the morning, Californians are encouraged to “Duck, Cover and Hold”.

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