Orange County officials mull applying for earthquake aid

A Fullerton fire engine drives on flooded Gilbert Street in Fullerton after a 5.1 magnitude earthquake burst a water main Friday evening March 28, 2014.
A Fullerton fire engine drives on flooded Gilbert Street in Fullerton after a 5.1 magnitude earthquake burst a water main Friday evening March 28, 2014.
Stuart Palley/KPCC

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Local leaders in Fullerton, Brea, La Habra and other cities most impacted by Friday's 5.1 earthquake and its aftershocks huddled in meetings Monday to tally the damages and determine what state and federal disaster assistance might be available.

In Brea, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Anna Cave said destruction was "mostly cosmetic" rather than structural. At City Hall, Cave said, a few water pipes burst and ceiling tiles fell, along with scattered books and files that flew off of shelves.

Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson said his Fullerton home shook for a good while Friday night. 

"My house was trashed," Nelson said. "Glass everywhere, stuff flying out of china cabinets, we're emptying every drawer because glass infiltrated in every drawer."

At least four water mains broke in his neighborhood and neighbors sustained cracked drywall and fallen fences, Nelson said.

In La Habra, at the epicenter of the quake, two water mains broke, along with property damage to at least a dozen businesses, said City Councilman Jim Gomez. The bills are adding up, he said.

"Everyone's sort of tallying up what the losses are in each community," Gomez said. The next step will be determining whether the damages are severe enough to warrant calling for a state of emergency, thereby triggering state and federal assistance.

"If it's feasible, it would be a tool we would be able to use to get the reimbursement for the funding we used for this emergency," Gomez said. 

Nelson doesn't think it'll happen. He says the damage simply isn't on par with disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the 1994 Northridge Quake.

"You know, a couple broken pots, drywall damage, and a few burst water pipes," Nelson said. "Not exactly the kind of thing we need to call in the Marine Corps for."

Nelson said he thinks the damage to public property will tally in the tens of thousands dollars -- not the millions typically associated with disaster declarations. The earthquake was also a real lesson in how powerful the region's lesser known fault lines can be. 

"We always think of the San Andreas fault, but some of these others run through very populated areas," Nelson said. "An earthquake just one point higher could be disastrous."

Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz said current damage in his area likely isn't enough to meet federal thresholds for assistance, but preliminary figures suggest the cost could reach up to a half million dollars to private property and a half million to public property.

"We likely don't meet the thresholds for the major funding assistance but if there are grant programs for homeowners... to assist them, we certainly want to make those available," Felz told KPCC.

Brea's Anna Cave said the threshold for declaring a state of emergency in a place like Orange County, with its large population, would be somewhere over $10 million. 

"We're nowhere close," Cave said. Though there may be other federal and local programs that can help out with public property damage and damages to local businesses.

"We're still having aftershocks, so we'll see," Cave said. 

Officials estimate they'll have their monetary tally of damages by midweek.