LOS ANGELES — ONE week after twin temblors shifted public focus from riot cleanup to preparing for "The Big One," southern California continues giving itself a refresher course in earthquake readiness.
But officials say the immediate threat of both devastating aftershocks and 8.0-magnitude or greater earthquakes - long predicted to hit here within 30 to 100 years - are diminishing.
"There is no information suggesting that a major earthquake is imminent," says Richard Andrews, director of the state Office of Emergency Services. "Aftershocks ... will continue for months, including a real chance of one or more events in the magnitude 5 or 6 range; however, the frequency of aftershocks is expected to decrease." His remarks were made in a statewide radio address requested by Gov. Pete Wilson (R) to help quiet a far greater than usual uneasiness reported by agencies from San Diego to the
northern coastal city of Eureka. State and local offices of emergency services report between two and three times the usual number of inquiries after major earthquakes.
The California Institute of Technology at Pasadena, southern California's chief center for seismic studies, has been "overwhelmed" with public concern, says spokesman Bob Finn. California Quakesavers, a local earthquake-preparedness business that sells survival kits and conducts awareness seminars for schools and business, says its business has tripled. An unusually high number of requests are from parents searching for ways to calm children and establish family strategies for what to do in a disaster.
People have also been stocking up on bottled water, batteries, and canned food in stores hundreds of miles from the two desert sites that reported 7.4- and 6.5-magnitude earthquakes on June 28. Brochures and pamphlets at retail outlets and government offices inform residents with lists of items for car (first-aid kits, jumper cables, canned heat) and home (copies of documents, freeze-dried foods, battery-operated lights, and propane or small charcoal grills).
With community-wide concern similar to that seen in the Rodney King riot aftermath, daily newspapers, call-in radio programs, and local TV are pitching in with special series and segments designed to alert residents of emergency procedures and to counsel both children and adults how to cope with concerns. Analysts consider such concerns useful as long as they prompt people to take precautions.
"Usually, the people most fearful are the ones least prepared," says L.A. psychologist Robert Butterworth. "It sounds redundant - `Be prepared, be prepared, be prepared.' But what about having drills with the family? How many have sat down as a family and said, `Let's see, if there's an earthquake, who's going to pick up Johnny?' "
MEANWHILE, President Bush de-clared San Bernardino and Riverside counties federal disaster areas, paving the way for long-term, low-interest loans for uninsured residents needing to rebuild. Two offices will be established in the area this week, offering loans of up to $500,000 to farmers, businessmen, and ranchers who qualify. Grants for home repairs will be available to those whose homes are uninhabitable or who have lost employment and are unable to pay rent.
The official damage estimate has reached $92 million, some caused by a half-dozen aftershocks over 5.0 magnitude on the Richter scale. Three hundred and fifty injuries, 25 serious, have been reported; there was one fatality. Hundreds of residents, unconsoled by seismologists who lowered expectations of a 6.0 quake from 50 percent to 30 percent within a week, continued to sleep outside their dwellings for days. State authorities report damage to more than 4,000 homes, 175 businesses and several desert and
high mountain roads.
Lost water service to more than 27,000 residents, one of the most serious results of the quakes, was still being restored over the weekend. Some 1,500 households in Landers, at the strongest quake's epicenter, were still without water after one week.
At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Goldstone Tracking station, sufficient damage was reported to keep it out of commission for several weeks. The station is one of the three worldwide tracking sites for deep-space probes launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the European Space Agency.
"Earthquakes are a permanent feature of the California environment," said emergency services' Andrews. "We can't stop them, but we can prepare for them."