A major 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck near the Mexico-California border on Sunday, killing at least one person as it rocked buildings and panicked residents from Tijuana to Los Angeles. One person died when a house in Mexicali collapsed, Alfredo Escobedo, director of emergency services in Baja California state, Mexico.
He said others were reported trapped in elevators, retaining walls had collapsed in some places and electricity was out in several parts of the state. The relatively shallow quake was centered in a lightly populated area in northeastern Baja California near the city of Mexicali on the U.S. border, knocking out power in chunks of the city and cutting off most phone communications.
A series of aftershocks rocked the area around the epicenter, 30 miles to the southeast of Mexicali and close to the town of Guadalupe Victoria. The U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, originally measured the quake as 6.9 but later raised it to 7.2, a magnitude that can cause serious damage to urban areas. It also revised the depth of the quake to 6.2 miles from 20 miles. Mexicali, home to roughly a million people, is a prosperous city and a busy border crossing with the United States.
Local industry is mainly agriculture, food processing plants and assembly-for-export plants.
An empty multistory parking garage under construction in Mexicali collapsed and broken gas pipes sparked a number of fires, Baja California civil protection official Eduardo Sandoval told Mexican radio. He had no reports of casualties. In Tijuana, about 135 miles away from the epicenter, a witness said the quake visibly jolted cars in a parking lot and shook a computer on her desk. A highway between Tijuana and Mexicali was badly damaged, civil protection officials said. Devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile this year have left many people nervous across tremor-prone Latin America.
Some neighborhoods of San Diego reported minor structural damage and burst water pipes and callers to local radio said the rolling tremor made it hard to keep vehicles on the road. "This was by far in recent memory the biggest jolt to our area," said a commentator on local San Diego radio station. People in Los Angeles, some 200 miles northwest of the epicenter, felt buildings swaying. "I'm shaking like a leaf ... the pool water was just going everywhere," said Jean Nelson in Indio, California, outside Palm Springs, about 120 miles from the epicenter.
Southern California with its many active faults is prone to frequent quakes, and many residents fearfully anticipate the next big one. The last to cause major damage was the 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake in 1994 that left 57 dead, injured 9,000 and resulted in about $40 billion in property damage. The quake struck at 3:40 p.m. Pacific time (6:40 p.m. EDT). Multiple aftershocks included a 5.1 shock centered near the U.S.-Mexico border in Imperial, California.
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