Trona 1 Year Later: recovery stalled by coronavirus

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Recovery in Ridgecrest has been steady, but just 25 miles northeast, the town of Trona hasn’t been able to catch a break.

It was ground zero of the two earthquakes last year, it’s still the epicenter of frequent aftershocks, and now it’s been another target of COVID-19.

“This is just life. It is, it’s life,” said Trona resident Regina Troglin.

We met Regina in December when we checked in six months after the earthquakes.

Back then, residents of Trona put San Bernardino County on blast, claiming officials did not send adequate help. They said they felt forgotten. Now, it’s a bittersweet sign of improvement.

“Some of the stuff out of December, I know the county wasn’t very happy, but it seems to have made a change for the positive,” Regina said. “Six months ago, we just didn’t feel like they were talking to us as much. Now they do—they reach out, hey what can we do, what else do we need?”

Now, one year later, Trona is still a visible reminder of the earthquakes. Some buildings are still red-tagged and many houses remain in shambles, all reminders of residents who left when they couldn’t afford repairs. The county started tearing down the most damaged homes months ago.

“Actually seeing these fire hazards come down, it’s a little sad, a little surreal for a lot of us who live here, but at the same time it’s a happy thing,” Regina said.

Trona still needs a lot. Repairs and construction have been stalled due to COVID.

“I mean it would be nice to see our high school completely back. That’s not done yet. Downtown is still not done yet. Esparza’s still isn’t open,” Regina added.

Esparza’s, one of two sit-down restaurants in Trona, planned to reopen this spring after suffering major earthquake damage. Now that’s delayed by the governor’s coronavirus orders.

The Shell station and Four Square Church are also never coming back. Trona’s only grocery store, Family Dollar, has permanently closed.

“It’s really hard with COVID to go grocery shopping when we got to go 40 miles,” Regina said.

But perhaps the biggest hit is from lack of tourism.

“This time of year in the summer, we get the dirt bikers, the quads, we get the campers. It sets up the restaurants, the gas stations,” Regina said. “We can’t sustain those businesses ourselves. We need the outside influx of money to keep these things going, and without it, we don’t have any money.”

It’s a catch 22. Trona hasn’t had a single case of coronavirus yet. It needs repairs and tourism to continue, but that would only increase the risk of bringing covid into their community. 

Frequent aftershocks are a reminder of what’s hit and a warning of what could come.

“It’s almost every day,” Regina said. “We range in quakes from ones to threes. That’s our average.”

However, while there’s a lot of debris, there is also beauty.

“I love this town and they’re really good people,” Regina said. “Like I said in December, they’re really good people, and they just deserve the best.”

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