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'We're lucky:' Ojai earthquake aftermath shows minimal damage, injuries

The earthquake that shook Ojai and beyond on Sunday afternoon shattered glass, cracked brickwork and dislodged a bell in the central tower at Thomas Aquinas College, though on Monday morning authorities continued to report no major structural damage or significant injuries from the quake.

The magnitude 5.1 temblor hit at 2:40 p.m. about 4 miles southeast of Ojai. Tremors spread across the state: The U.S. Geological Survey received individual reports of light shaking from Salinas to Oceanside and logged more than 30 aftershocks.

The heaviest shakes were felt in and around Ojai, the agency indicated. Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones said during a live broadcast Sunday's earthquake was the first time a magnitude 5.0 quake had registered in the area since 1941.

Szilvia Beylik was in her car, five minutes from home in Upper Ojai, when the quake hit. She didn't feel a thing, but got a notification about the quake on her phone, then a call from her 25-year-old daughter, who was at the house alone.

"She was crying, scared." Beylik said. "Everything was falling around her."

Beylik immediately saw the quake's effect as she stepped out of her car at home. The upper end of her chimney had collapsed and bricks scattered "all across the front yard."

Inside, Beylik said, an upstairs toilet had cracked and flooded, and a "ton of stuff" was knocked off of walls and out of kitchen cupboards.

"It took us hours to clean up," Beylik said.

The family was able to cover the open chimney in time to prevent rain from leaking into the house as Tropical Storm Hilary passed later in the day, but Beylik said she spent much of her Monday morning "neck deep in phone calls, trying to fix things."

Up the road at Thomas Aquinas College, spokesperson Chris Weinkopf said the earthquake cracked plaster walls and knocked objects to the floor throughout the campus. In the college chapel's bell tower, he said, the quake knocked a bell partially off of its mount.

But a Monday morning building inspection confirmed that none of the damage was structural, Weinkopf said. The college moved its planned 8 a.m. convocation mass in the chapel to 4 p.m. Monday. The convocation marked the start of the small Catholic college's academic year.

Businesses, agencies and individuals reported similar damage around Ojai.

Kim O'Neil, a front-end manager at Westridge Midtown Market, said staff closed the grocery store for about two hours Sunday to clean up broken bottles and merchandise that had fallen off shelves. Another Westridge location about a half mile away had experienced more damage, she said.

Ojai Mayor Betsy Stix was in her home office Sunday afternoon when she heard a "large boom" and saw her cats run for cover. She said she's received reports of a downed power line on Fulton Street and damage to stores in the downtown Ojai Arcade.

Ventura County Fire Department officials estimated they received about a half dozen quake-related calls, mostly from individuals concerned about possible structural damage.

In some cases, it wasn't immediately clear whether damage was caused by the quake, on-going rains, or both. Ojai police Chief Trina Newman said her office had received reports of downed trees at multiple residences on Sunday, as well as a tree that fell onto a city auxiliary building near Ojai City Hall.

Still, Stix said, it was notable that on a "historic" day of combined potential disasters, the region emerged without structural damages, serious injuries and loss of life.

"We're lucky," she said.

Isaiah Murtaugh covers education for the Ventura County Star in partnership with Report for America. Reach him at isaiah.murtaugh@vcstar.com or 805-437-0236 and follow him on Twitter @isaiahmurtaugh and @vcsschools. You can support this work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.

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