I had to grab hold of something stable on the ground just to keep from falling over.
Kathy Jensen, Peace Lutheran Church
The magnitude 6.5 quake that struck California Monday hit the small town of Paso Robles the hardest, according to preliminary damage assessments, and damaging aftershocks could continue for up to a week.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recorded at least 30 aftershocks the first hour after the quake, the largest of them magnitude 4.7. The USGS issued an aftershock warning, saying as many as 200 aftershocks could be felt over the next seven days. It is likely that at least one aftershock could be strong enough to cause more damage, reported the USGS.
Two people were found dead in the rubble when historic downtown buildings collapsed in Paso Robles after the quake hit at 11:17 Pacific time.
Paso Robles is in San Luis Obispo County, about 20 miles east of the epicenter. The quake caused the clocktower, which dates back to the 1800s, to collapse, crushing stores and cars.
The quake was centered in a sparsely populated area 11 miles north of the coastal town of Cambria.
Numerous homes and businesses in the San Simeon area were damaged, state emergency services officials said.
California officials warned Monday that the worst may be yet to come – government geologists said a second earthquake greater in intensity than the one that struck Monday could strike in the next few days, said Dale Chessey, spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.
"People need to prepare and get their kits together in case they have to leave immediately," Chessey said.
Representatives from the Church World Service Emergency (CWS) Response Program were checking with state and local emergency officials to determine what response will be needed by it and its partner organizations.
National faith-based disaster response groups were contacting field staff and beginning to assess damages.
Churches in the area around San Simeon and Paso Robles – where most of the damage has been reported – began rallying to help those affected most by the disaster.
Many churches in Paso Robles were unable to respond to phone calls because of downed phone lines.
In Cambria, the closest town to the earthquake, there was little damage. But church member Marian Willis felt the earthquake.
"We felt it – it was quite a shake. We just stood in the doorways, the windows rattled. It was scary and there was several aftershocks," Willis said.
Church members are assessing the situation to see how they can best help those affected by the earthquake, Willis said.
Kathy Jensen, of Peace Lutheran Church in Arroyo Grande, Calif. – 50 miles from the earthquake's epicenter – was at her desk when she felt it shake and roll. She and another church member went outside.
"I was trying to stand up but I (couldn't) stand up very well," Jensen said. "I had to grab hold of something stable on the ground just to keep from falling over. Never have I had that happen before. I've been in earthquakes - I'm a native Californian."
"We pray for people involved in disasters," Jensen added. During the wildfires, Peace Lutheran took up a collection.
Jensen said that although she doesn't have an earthquake kit, she will heed the warnings of state officials and will put together a simple kit in case she needs to leave in a hurry.
"We're fortunate this is not a major population center here," she added. "This whole central coast – it's definitely not a heavy population."
Monday's quake was the most powerful to strike the state since a 7.1-magnitude quake hit a desert area near Joshua Tree in 1999.
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