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A worker cleans up in a liquor store after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the area and knocked over bottles in the store on July 4, 2019 near Ridgecrest, California. The earthquake was the largest to strike Southern California in 20 years with the epicenter located in a remote area of the Mojave Desert.
Mario Tama—Getty Images

Alex Esmail, who survived hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike, says Thursday’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake felt like swimming in the ocean, waiting for a wave to hit.

“You rock back and forth, back and forth,” he tells TIME. He was at a CVS pharmacy with his wife in Tustin, Calif., about 160 miles south of the earthquake’s epicenter near Ridgecrest when he felt it.

“I felt my head spin. My wife was behind me and she was spinning too. She caught my back and said, ‘It’s an earthquake.'” Esmail says. “It took me about 20 seconds to come back to reality and start recording.”

Now Esmail and his family are preparing for further aftershocks and other potential high-magnitude earthquakes by stocking up their SUV with water and supplies.

Several precautionary measures are in place to prepare in case of further damaging earthquakes in Kern County, where the epicenter of the earthquake struck on the 4th of July.

According to Megan Person, countywide communication manager for Kern County, the fire department and first responders are getting the message out about preparedness.

“They sent out information today about making sure that you have your three days of water — a gallon for every person per day — have your basic needs, your food,” Person tells TIME. “Have your car full of gas so if you need to leave you can.”

Not out of the clear yet

Seismologist Dr. Jen Andrews at the California Institute of Technology told TIME on Thursday that it is possible for large earthquakes to trigger even larger ones. The Thursday 6.4 magnitude quake was the largest the region has seen in 20 years. More than 100 aftershocks have been felt since then, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, including a 5.4 magnitude quake on Friday morning.

The Kern County Fire Department has responded to two house fires, small vegetation fires, gas leaks and cracked roads, according to the Associated Press. Some repairs in San Bernardino County have already been made.

About 7,000 residents in Kern County lost power on Thursday. A spokesperson for Southern California Edison, which supplies electricity to roughly 5 million accounts in the region, said the company is closely monitoring the area for further outages, but says none have since occurred.

By 8 p.m. on Thursday, 6,000 had power restored, and power was fully restored to the remainder by the morning. A local high school opened to the public as a “cooling center” to help those who lost power stay out of the heat and Person says Kern County will re-open cooling centers, which are common for the region, should another power outage occur. AccuWeather reports temperatures reached 100 degrees in Ridgecrest on Thursday.

As of Friday, there are no planned evacuations in the region. “If something worse happens, absolutely we have a plan in place to move forward with, but currently there will be no evacuations,” Person says.

A spokesperson for Pacific Gas & Electric, which supplies gas to the region, says the company is taking precautionary measures by serving 200 miles of gas transmission lines with sensitive leak detection equipment along with visual inspections of infrastructure.

A family all too familiar with natural disasters

Esmail, 39 and a father of seven, used to live in Gretna, Louisiana — until Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home. He tells TIME his daughter’s hand was broken and his son’s chin was cut open after the ceiling caved in on them during Katrina. “We suffered,” he says.

The family moved to Houston after Katrina, where they weathered hurricanes Gustav and Ike. After Ike damaged the family’s home there in 2008, Esmail moved the family to Orange County, Calif.

On July 4, Esmail returned home from picking up a prescription at CVS and felt an after shock. “My daughter, she’s 16 years old, she just started freaking out,” he says.

“I’m not sure where to go, or what to do,” he added. “It came to our mind again, like a flashback.”

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Write to Jasmine Aguilera at

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