Millions in Calif., Ariz., Mexico feel 7.2 quake

Padang of the strongest earthquakes to hit Southern California in decades shook tens of millions of people in two countries and three states on Sunday, swaying buildings from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Tijuana. At least one person in Mexico was killed and others were feared trapped in their homes.

The 7.2-magnitude quake struck at 3:40 p.m. PDT, about 38 miles (60 kms) southeast of the border city of Mexicali, Mexico, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It had a shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). Three aftershocks of magnitudes 5.1, 4.5 and 4.3 followed within the hour.

"It sounds like it's felt by at least 20 million people at this point," USGS seismologist Lucy Jones said. "Most of Southern California felt this earthquake."

The earthquake was felt the hardest in Mexicali, a bustling commerce center along the border.

Baja California state Civil Protection Director Alfredo Escobedo said a man was killed when his home collapsed just outside of Mexicali, and that there were reports of more people trapped in homes in the area.

Rescue teams with dogs and digging equipment were rushing to the city from nearby Tijuana, but a landslide along that highway was slowing traffic.

All 300 patients had to be evacuated from the Mexicali General Hospital to other clinics because the building had no electricity or water, Escobedo said. Blackouts were widespread throughout the city and telephone communication was patchy.

The parking garage at Mexicali's city hall also collapsed, Escobedo said, but no one there was hurt.

As darkness fell there were growing reports of damage on the U.S. side of the border in Calexico, a city of about 27,000, but no injuries.

"We have some substantial damage here in our older section of Calexico," Fire Chief Peter Mercado told KABC-TV Los Angeles. "We have a few buildings that have sustained some structural damage, broken windows."

Some gas lines were leaking and parts of the water system were damaged, he said.

Law enforcement vehicles guarded downtown streets in Calexico on Sunday night. Scattered windows were shattered and bricks and plaster had fallen from some buildings.

Rosendo Garcia, 44, said he was driving his daughter home from work when the quake struck.

"It felt like I was in a canoe in the middle of the ocean," he said.

He said homes in his trailer park were seriously damaged, including one that was knocked off its foundation

His wife, Elvia Garcia, 47, said her refrigerator door flew open and the food fell out. Her TV and computer crashed to the ground. All the plates were broken.

"It was tremendous," she said.

The Fire Department responded to several calls to transport sick and elderly people to hospitals because of power outages and gas problems, and a senior home called firefighters to remove elderly people from upper floors because of fear of damage.

Lights shattered, ceiling tiles fell and shelves collapsed at a Subway sandwich restaurant in Calexico, said manager Rosie Arellano.

"Everything is shut down, the whole town," Arellano said. "All the stop lights and the street lights are out. We have no power."

More than 100 miles (160 kms) west of the epicenter, San Diego's Sheraton Hotel and Marina was briefly evacuated after minor cracks were discovered in the floors, said Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Maurice Luque. All guests were allowed to return.

Susan Warmbier was putting away her groceries in the Sa Diego suburb of Chula Vista when her husband asked, "Is the house moving?"

"We turned and we looked at the house, and it was actually moving. You could see it slightly moving left to right," she said.

A heavy chandelier in the couple's dining room "was just swaying like someone had just jumped fom it," she said. There was no sound from the quake itself, but she added, "All of the dogs in the neighborhood were just barking crazy."

Elsewhere in San Diego, there were reports of shattered windows, broken pipes and water main breaks in private buildings, but no reports of injuries, San Diego Fire-Rscue Department spokesman Maurice Luque said. Coronado Bridge over San Diego Bay was briefly closed by the California Highway Patrol as a precaution.

Across the border in Tijuana, Mexico, the quake caused buildings to sway and knocked out power in some areas. Families celebrating Easter ran out of their hoes, with children screaming and crying.

"I grabbed my children and said, 'Let's go outside, hurry, hurry!"' said Elizabeth Alvarez, 54, who said she was just getting ready to leave her house with her kids in an eastern Tijuana neighborhood when the quake hit.

No tsunami warning was issued, but hundres of people on Tijuana's crowded beach feared the worst and fled when they felt the ground shake, said Capt. Juan Manuel Hernandez, the city fire department's chief of aquatic rescue. The beach filled up again within an hour.

The quake was centered in an area has been seismically active lately but until Snday the earthquakes had been largely of around magnitude-3.0.

The main quake was initially reported as magnitude-6.9. The updated magnitude was still an estimate, but if it holds it would be California's largest temblor since the 7.3-magnitude Landers quake hit in 1992, Jones said. There were at least twother 7.2-magnitude quakes in the last 20 years.

The main quake was felt hundreds of miles away in Phoenix, where residents rarely feel the earth shake.

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 yself, 'That can't be an earthquake. I'm in Arizona,"' the Northern California native said.

Mike Wong, who works at a journalism school in downtown Phoenix, said he was in his second-floor office when he heard "cracking sounds, like Rice Krispies," and felt the building sway. He said the swaying lasted or "just a few seconds," and he didn't notice any damage.

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.

Strong shaking was reported across much of Southern California. The earthquake rattled buildings on the west side of Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley, interrupting Easter dinners. Some stalled elevators were reported, water sloshed out of swimming pools and wine jiggled in glasses.


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