BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Seventy years ago this summer, Kern County was forever changed.

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake, the third strongest in recorded California history, then and still, shook buildings and shook nerves throughout much of the southern valley. The first earthquake was centered near Tehachapi and Arvin, and 33 days later the strongest of the many aftershocks destroyed much of Bakersfield. 

Read the full story from KGET’s Robert Price in a 17 News Special Report.

Twelve-year-old Hank Webb was in the back seat of his sister’s car at that moment; she was driving north on Chester Avenue, approaching the Southern Pacific tracks and, just beyond it, the landmark Beale Clock Tower, when they got a flat tire. Or so they thought. Webb’s sister pulled over.

“So I get out and look at the tires – they’re fine. And then I looked around at the buildings and people were starting to pour out of the buildings. And I looked toward town and there was just a giant cloud of dust, so my sister said, ‘Well, we gotta go see this.’

“So we drive down Chester and when we reached Truxtun we could see that chunks of the clock tower had fallen down, and right on the corner where the Hall of Records is, was a black woman in a nurse’s uniform who had fainted. She was flat out on her back, but by God her purse was still in her hand,” Webb said.