Big Baja quake shakes 3 US states, most US damage in Calexico

By Elliot Spagat, AP
Monday, April 5, 2010

Border city absorbs most US damage in quake

CALEXICO, Calif. — Residents gathered in the streets of this U.S. border city after a powerful earthquake struck just inside Mexico, trading news of local damage that was extensive enough for police to close off the downtown.

Businesses in Calexico, the U.S. area hit hardest, were guarded by police Sunday night after the 7.2-magnitude quake damaged pre-war buildings not updated to handle strong quakes, Calexico police Lt. Gonzalo Gerardo said.

“Downtown is going to remain closed until further notice,” he said.

Bricks had fallen from the one-story buildings and some windows were shattered.

“It felt like I was in a canoe in the middle of the ocean,” Rosendo Garcia, 44, said of the temblor, which struck at 3:40 p.m., centered 19 miles south of Mexicali.

Garcia said that five homes at his trailer park were seriously damaged.

His wife, Elvia Garcia, 47, said her refrigerator door flew open and all the food fell out. Her plates, TV and computer all smshed to the floor.

Seismic waves from the temblor rolled north into Southern California, damaging Calexico and alarming residents from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Buildings shook as far away as Phoenix and Las Vegas, but most of the U.S. damage appeared to be limited to California’s southeastern Imperial Valley.

There were no reports of U.S. deaths or injuries, but at least two people died in Mexico.

Authorities said the strong quake was followed by many smaller aftershocks, including five with magnitudes between 5.0 and 5.4 and all centered in Mexico. A Monday morning magnitude 4.8 aftershock was centered between El Centro, Calif., and Imperial, Calif.

In Nevada, the quake was felt in the fire and medical dispatch center in downtown Las Vegas, but there were no reports of damage or injuries, according to Tim Szymanski, a spokesman for Las Vegas Fire and Rescue.

Jacqueline Land said her king-sized bed in her second-floor Phoenix-area apartment felt like a boat gently swaying on the ocean.

“I thought to myself, ‘That can’t be an earthquake. I’m in Arizona,’” she said.

In Yuma, Ariz., near the California line and the Mexican border, Police Department spokesman Clint Norred said police responded to a lot of business alarms that the quake tripped, but there were no reports of real damage.

“In my house, it knocked a couple of things off the wall” and cut power for 15 minutes, he said.

Calexico was concerned about the effect of aftershocks on the buildings, some of which had 2-inch-wide wall cracks.

“I was out there looking at the cracks and saying this could come down anytime,” Gerardo said.

Three power lines were downed, a gas leak forced a brief evacuation of about 30 homes, and residents were removed from a senior living center built in the early 1900s, he said. Electricity was restored to the city’s southeast area after about four hours.

Power outages affected more than 5,300 Southern California Edison customers but the majority had only 30 seconds of flickering lights, said spokeswoman Lauren Bartlett.

Several hundred had longer outages but only 25 were still out by mid-evening.

The quake was felt at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station San Clemente but the ground movement was not strong enough to set off the seismic alert that would shut the plant down, said SoCal Edison spokesman Gil Alexander.

Thoroughbreds at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia were in the middle of a race when the quake hit, and track announcer Trevor Denman noted the jolt in his call of the race.

“I’d say we started shaking at about the half-mile pole,” Denman said. “It seemed like it was just going on and on.”

None of the jockeys in the race noticed the quake, track spokesman Mike Willman said.

All rides at Disneyland were shut down and inspected for damage, but were operating again by Sunday night. The park remained open all day.

For many across Southern California, the tremor interrupted Easter celebrations.

“It went for a really long time. I was surprised,” said Long Beach resident Gail Holtan. “Everybody just sat real calm and rode it out.”

The last quake of similar size in Baja California or Southern California was the 7.2 Landers earthquake in 1992, she said.

Associated Press Writers Chris Weber, Andrew Dalton and John Antczak in Los Angeles and John S. Marshall in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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