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Strongest earthquake in 20 years rattles Southern California

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LOS ANGELES — The strongest earthquake in 20 years shook a large swath of Southern California and parts of Nevada on the July 4th holiday, rattling nerves and causing injuries and damage in a town near the epicenter, followed by a swarm of ongoing aftershocks.

The 6.4 magnitude quake struck at 10:33 a.m. Thursday in the Mojave Desert, about 150 miles (240 kilometres) northeast of Los Angeles, near the town of Ridgecrest, California.

Multiple injuries and two house fires were reported in the town of 28,000. Emergency crews were also dealing with small vegetation fires, gas leaks and reports of cracked roads, said Kern County Fire Chief David Witt.

He said 15 patients were evacuated from the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital as a precaution and out of concern for aftershocks.

Kern County District Supervisor Mick Gleason told CNN there were some structural issues with the hospital and some patients had to be moved from one ward to another and that others were taken to a neighbouring building.

Gleason did not say what the structural issues were.

Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden said that utility workers were assessing broken gas lines and turning off gas where necessary.

The local senior centre was holding a July 4th event when the quake hit and everyone made it out shaken up but without injuries, she said.

“Oh, my goodness, there’s another one (quake) right now,” Breeden said on live television as an aftershock struck.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Kern County. The declaration means that the state will help the county and municipalities in it with emergency aid and recovery efforts.

Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden praised Newsom for declaring the emergency. She also noted at a news conference that other nearby governments have offered to help the recovery effort.

President Donald Trump said he was fully briefed on the earthquake and that it “all seems to be very much under control!”

Police and fire officials said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that they have enough resources so far to meet needs in the wake of the earthquake. Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin said at a news conference that “we have plenty of resources.”

California Highway Patrol Lt. John Williams says officials have found cracks on several roads in the county, but overpasses and underpasses are in good shape.

A series of aftershocks included a 4.5 magnitude temblor, according to the United States Geological Survey.

“It almost gave me a heart attack,” said Cora Burke, a waitress at Midway Cafe in Ridgecrest, of the big jolt. “It’s just a rolling feeling inside the building, inside the cafe and all of a sudden everything started falling off the shelf, glasses, the refrigerator and everything in the small refrigerator fell over.”

Video posted online of a liquor store in Ridgecrest showed the aisles filled with broken wine and liquor bottles, knocked down boxes and other groceries strewn on the floor. Flames were seen shooting out of one home in the community.

Lucy Jones, a seismologist with the California Institute of Technology’s seismology lab, said the earthquake was the strongest since a 7.1 quake struck in the area on October 16, 1999.

“This has been an extremely quiet abnormal time,” Jones said. “This type of earthquake is much more normal … The long term average is probably once every five or 10 years somewhere in Southern California.”

Jones said that the 6.4 quake centred near the town of Ridgecrest was preceded by a magnitude 4.2 temblor about a half hour earlier.

She said vigorous aftershocks were occurring and that she wouldn’t be surprised if a magnitude 5 quake hit but that they were striking in a remote area, sparsely populated area. “This is an isolated enough location that that’s going to greatly reduce the damage,” she said.

People from Las Vegas to the Pacific Coast reported feeling a rolling motion and took to social media to report it.

Local emergency agencies also took to social media to ask people to only call 911 for emergencies.

“We are very much aware of the significant earthquake that just occurred in Southern California. Please DO NOT call 9-1-1 unless there are injuries or other dangerous conditions. Don’t call for questions please,” the LAPD said in a statement published on Twitter.

There were no reports of serious damage or injuries in Los Angeles, the department said.

The quake was detected by California’s new ShakeAlert system and it provided 48 seconds of warning to the seismology lab well before the shaking arrived at Caltech in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena but it did not trigger a public warning through an app recently made available in Los Angeles County.

USGS seismologist Robert Graves said the ShakeAlert system worked properly.

Graves said it calculated an intensity level for the Los Angeles area that was below the threshold for a public alert. The limits are intended to avoid false alarms.

Ashleigh Chandler, a helicopter rescue EMT at Fort Irwin, California, said the quake happened as she was getting ready for a July 4th party.

“I was just in the living room getting everything ready, we start to feel the shaking, so then I look up and then the wine bottles start rattling and I thought, ‘They’re going to fall.’

“My stepson was in the house and my dog, so we just got everyone outside and then it ended. It was like 15, 20 seconds, maybe. It was pretty good shaking, so I’m out of breath.”

“Everyone’s OK.”

Glenn Pomeroy, the head of California’s Earthquake Authority, said the earthquake is “an important reminder that all of California is earthquake country.”

Pomeroy urged the estimated 2,000 people in the region hit by the quake who have California Earthquake Authority insurance policies to contact their residential insurance agencies as soon as possible. Information on how to file a policy claim is on the agency’s website: EarthquakeAuthority.com, he said.

___

Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Rachel Lerman in San Francisco and AP Radio reporter Shelly Adler in Washington, D.C., contributed.

John Antczak And Olga R. Rodriguez, The Associated Press




























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Biden lauds NASA team for giving US ‘dose of confidence’

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday congratulated the NASA team responsible for last month’s successful landing of an unmanned rover on Mars and for giving the country a “dose of confidence” at a moment when the nation’s reputation as a scientific leader has been tattered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden speaking in video conference call with the leadership of space agency’s jet propulsion laboratory team expressed awe over the Feb. 18 landing of Perseverance.

Perseverance, the biggest, most advanced rover ever sent by NASA, became the ninth spacecraft since the 1970s to successfully land on Mars, travelling some 300 million miles in nearly seven months, as part of an ongoing quest to study whether there was once life on the planet.

“It’s so much bigger than landing Perseverance on Mars,” Biden told members of the NASA team. “It’s about the American spirit. And you brought it back”

Biden watched on television as Perseverance’s touched down on Mars last month and called NASA’s Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk to pass on his congratulations to the Perseverance team. But Biden said he wanted to speak directly to the team, which he said deserved credit not only for the astronomical feat but also with boosting the United States’ reputation at a moment when it’s sorely needed.

He recalled that another nation’s leader recently told him that the U.S., once seen as competent, saw its standing fall with its response to coronavirus pandemic.

But Biden, who has made stemming a pandemic that has killed nearly 520,000 Americans his top priority, said that the Mars landing offered the nation a bit of inspiration at a moment when it’s sorely needed.

“We can land a rover on Mars, we can beat a pandemic,” Biden said. “And with science, hope and vision, there’s not a damn thing we can’t do as a country.”

The Perseverence landing comes amid a recent mad dash to Mars among rival space programs.

The NASA team landing on Feb. 18 marked the third visit to Mars in just over a week. Two spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates and China swung into orbit around Mars on successive days earlier in February. All three missions lifted off in July to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars.

NASA’s car-size, plutonium-powered vehicle arrived at Jezero Crater, hitting NASA’s smallest and trickiest target yet: a 5-by-4-mile strip on an ancient river delta full of pits, cliffs and rocks. Scientists believe that if life ever flourished on Mars, it would have happened 3 billion to 4 billion years ago, when water still flowed on the planet.

Over the next two years, the rover, nicknamed Percy, will use its 7-foot (2-meter) arm to drill down and collect rock samples containing possible signs of bygone microscopic life.

Three to four dozen chalk-size samples will be sealed in tubes and set aside to be retrieved eventually by another rover and brought homeward by another rocket ship.

Alexandra Jaffe And Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press


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Biden attempts bipartisan push for infrastructure package

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden tried to maintain bipartisan momentum for a new infrastructure program by meeting Thursday with Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the White House.

The meeting was about “what we’re gonna do to make sure we once again lead the world across the board on infrastructure,” Biden said. “It not only creates jobs, but it makes us a helluva lot more competitive around the world if we have the best infrastructure.”

Spending on infrastructure appears to be the next major priority for the Biden administration after its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package clears the Senate, likely along hardened partisan lines. The prospect of funding roads, bridges, ports, broadband and other infrastructure is a chance for Biden to rebuild his relationship with Republicans. It also allows him notch a policy achievement that evaded both the Obama and Trump administrations.

Biden met Thursday with eight members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, a follow-up to a February 11 meeting with senators on infrastructure.

The president laid the groundwork for an infrastructure package during last year’s campaign by proposing $2 trillion in “accelerated” investments to shift to cleaner energy, build charging stations for electric vehicles, support public transit and repair roads and bridges. The plan emphasizes the importance of addressing climate change and creating unionized jobs.

There is a need for infrastructure spending. The American Society of Civil Engineers on Wednesday graded the nation’s infrastructure as a lacklustre “C-.” The group said $5.9 trillion must be spent over the next decade for safe and sustainable roads, bridges and airports. That recommendation is about $2.6 trillion more than what the government and private sector spend.

Republicans say they want to invest in infrastructure, but they appear to disagree with Biden’s focus on the environment and the possibility of financing any program with debt after the federal government has already borrowed heavily to combat the economic fallout from the pandemic. Their concern is that infrastructure would ultimately become a form of the Democratic-proposed “Green New Deal” that would move the country away from fossil fuels.

Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, the ranking Republican on the transportation committee, left the Thursday meeting with a series of markers for Biden to win bipartisan backing.

“First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multi-trillion dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support,” Graves said in a statement. “Second, a transportation bill needs to be a transportation bill that primarily focuses on fundamental transportation needs, such as roads and bridges. Republicans won’t support another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill.”

Still, the committee chairman, Oregon Democrat Pete DeFazio, described the meeting with Biden as productive and refreshing after conversations with former President Donald Trump led to minimal progress on infrastructure. DeFazio said they discussed paying for the plan, but he declined to go into specifics.

“The difference between talking to Joe Biden about infrastructure and what goes into it and how we’re going to get it done and Donald Trump is like, it’s just a whole different world,” DeFazio said. “It’s way better.”

Josh Boak And Alexandra Jaffe, The Associated Press


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