California experienced its strongest earthquake in two decades on Thursday after a magnitude 6.4 quake struck near the town of Ridgecrest in Kern County.
There are reports of “significant damage” to the city, which is home to nearly 30,000 people, with cracked roads, felled power lines, and broken walls and windows in many homes.
Firefighters reportedly dealt with fires in and around Ridgecrest on Friday, and provided medical assistance to a number of residents.
California Governor Gavin Newson has declared a state of emergency for the areas affected, due to concerns that potential aftershocks could cause further disruption.
While damage is expected to be limited due to the sparse population in the region, the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) has 2,000 policyholders in the affected area who it said were likely to have experienced strong shaking.
Any damage to homes should be well within claim-paying capacity for covered claims, added the CEA, which has more than $17 billion in capacity.
However, the Authority warned that if the earthquake had occurred under a densely populated area, it is likely that California would be looking damages in the billions of dollars.
The incident in Ridgecrest is the strongest earthquake to hit the state since the magnitude 7.1 Hector Mine quake in 1999, which occurred in a remote region of the Mojave desert.
However, for many Californians, it will be a reminder of the destructive magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994, which caused up to an estimated $50 billion of property damage in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles County, killing 57 people and injuring 8,700 more.
Tremors from the Ridgecrest quake were reportedly felt from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Coast, and further aftershocks are expected to be felt in the coming days.
At least 159 aftershocks of magnitude 2.5 or higher have been recorded following the event so far, which is high but not unprecedented, according to seismologists.
Some experts suggested there was a 50% chance that another large earthquake could occur within the next week.
The insurance and reinsurance industry will likely be watching developments closely as the full extent of the damage emerges.
“This event is an important reminder that all of California is earthquake country,” the CEA stated. “Earthquakes can happen at any time—a magnitude 5.6 earthquake occurred on our northern coast just a couple of weeks ago—and we need to be prepared.”
The CEA recommended that Californians take steps to mitigate the damage from future earthquakes by retrofitting homes built prior to 1980 and purchasing earthquake insurance to protect themselves financially.
Founded in 1996, the CEA is a not-for-profit, privately funded, publicly managed organization that provides residential earthquake insurance and encourages Californians to reduce their risk of earthquake loss.