TIJUANA, Mexico - One 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 Las Vegas.
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 20 miles southeast of the border city of Mexicali, Mexico, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. 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.
The parking garage at Mexicali’s city hall also collapsed, Escobedo said, but no one there was hurt.
There was substantial damage on the other side of the border in Calexico, Calif. Fire Chief Peter Mercado told KABC-TV of Los Angeles that there was structural damage and broken windows in an older section of town, as well as leaking gas lines and damage to the water system, but that no one was hurt.
There also were scattered reports of stuck elevators in California and Mexico, but for most people who felt it, the quake was just a scare.
Susan Warmbier was putting away her groceries in the San 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 from 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.” In nearby Tijuana, Mexico, the quake
caused buildings to sway and knocked out power in some areas. Families celebrating Easter ran out of their homes, 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 hundreds 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 Sunday 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 two other 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 myself, ’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 for “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.
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-Rescue Department spokesman Maurice Luque said. Coronado Bridge over San Diego Bay was briefly closed by the California Highway Patrol as a precaution.
Power outages were rare, and mostly brief. Most of the 3,000 customers who lost power in southwestern Arizona, and the more than 5,000 who went dark in Southern California, regained power within minutes, utility officials said.
Clint Norred, a spokesman for the Yuma, Ariz., Police Department, said the quake was very strong there but he’d heard no reports of injuries or major damage. “In my house, it knocked a couple of things off the wall,” he said.