BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It’s been 70 years since Kern County’s defining natural disaster: the 1952 Earthquake and its nerve-shattering aftershocks.

The earthquake of July 21, 1952, destroyed the town of Tehachapi and killed 12 people. The strongest of the many aftershocks that followed 33 days later killed two more and changed the face of Bakersfield forever.

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

In the summer of ‘52 Tommy Hays played guitar and sang at a local honky tonk on Edison Highway, the Lucky Spot, and on August 22nd he was at a local finance company, selling his motorcycle to fellow musician Lewis Talley.

“I was in there signing papers for the motorcycle and that earthquake hit,” Hays said. “And everything started shaking and rattling so my instinct was to get out of there. So I did, and I ran out in the middle of the street.

“I forgot where I parked my car so I turned around and looked at the brick building I had just run out of and the cracks were, about 10 of them, they were just going like this – thit-thit-thit-thit– from the street up to the top of the building. I thought, ‘So, bricks are gonna fall right on me out here.’

“So I ran back inside, and when I go back inside, the water jug has shattered glass all over the place. And there was a woman sitting next to the door – well, she wasn’t there [anymore], but there was a pile of roofing that had fell through, was there. I don’t know whatever happened to her but I guess she was faster than I was. I never saw her anymore.

Telephone lines were busy-busy-busy so Hays hopped in his car and sped across rubble-strewn streets and around roadblocks back to Oildale, where he found his wife and two kids safe.