A major 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck near the Mexico-California border on Sunday, killing at least one person as it rocked buildings, ruptured a highway 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, said. He said others had been trapped in elevators, retaining walls collapsed in some places and electricity was out in several parts of the state. "There are around 100 people injured," Escobedo told Reuters, but he had no reports of people stuck under collapsed buildings. Local newspaper La Cronica said two people had died.
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. It knocked down power lines, cut off most phone communications and tore big cracks in a highway linking Tijuana to Mexicali. The U.S. town of Calexico, over the border from Mexicali, suffered substantial structural damage but no casualties, local Fire Chief Pete Mercado told ABC7 TV News in Los Angeles. "We are a population of 40,000 people, bordered next to 1.5 million. So we have a significant amount of damage down in Mexicali," he said. "I have not got an update from the Mexican side."
Mexicali 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. Images after the quake showed damaged but not collapsed buildings. 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 for several hours. "It's still shaking," Nadia Camacho, a receptionist at a Mexicali hotel which had cracks in its floor and walls, said hours after the quake struck at 3:40 p.m. Pacific time (6:40 p.m. EDT). "We are all on alert. Nobody is inside the hotel, everybody's outside."
The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at 7.2, a magnitude that can cause serious damage to urban areas. Devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile this year have left many people nervous across tremor-prone Latin America. 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. In Tijuana, about 135 miles from the epicenter, a Reuters witness said the quake visibly jolted cars in a parking lot and shook a computer on her desk. 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.