Major quake hits CA, Mexico cities

Many Mexican buildings collapse, main aqueduct to Tijuana cracked, CA employer losses expected to exacerbate unemployment challenges


More than 350 aftershocks rattled the Mexico/California border Monday after a major Baja California earthquake killed at least two people and injured hundreds of others when it struck at 3:40 PM (PDT) Sunday.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake was one of the strongest to hit the region in decades. It was centered 39 miles south-southeast of Calexico, CA, and shook about 20 million people.

"With the number of aftershocks we've had, the likelihood of another 6 or 7 magnitude earthquake is very real," Erik Pounders, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, told Reuters Monday

The temblor cracked the main aqueduct that provides water from the Colorado River in the Mexicali Valley to Tijuana, limiting the amount of water available in that major city

Suzi Woodruff of the Salvation Army del Mar Division, said the Salvation Army in San Diego has sent two emergency mobile feeding units (canteens) to the El Centro and Calexico area. The canteens are handing out water, snacks and meals to first responders that are doing damage assessments and cleanup, as well as those affected by the earthquake.

Woodruff also said at least 11 families displaced by the quake are being housed at The Salvation Army El Centro Corps Community Center shelter, which is already housing 30 survivors.

There have not been any serious injuries reported in Calexico, the U.S. city that was hit hardest by the quake, but damages are severe.

Nearly 80 percent of historic downtown Calexico is badly damaged. Twelve blocks of the area has been closed off until further notice, this includes vehicular and foot traffic.

“Although the streets are closed off, there is so much policing and lighting in the area, that the fear of looting is non existent," said City Manager of Calexico, Victor Carrillo. "You aren’t getting into that area, unless you’re a store owner or government employee. Other than the media, it is like a ghost town.”

Carrillo said roofs are caved in, windows are smashed, and three large water tanks that hold the city’s water supply, are damaged. Residents have been asked to use water very sparingly and only when necessary.

The earthquake downed three power lines in Calexico, causing power outages for hours, and a gas leak resulted in a brief evacuation of about 30 homes.

About 20 buildings collapsed and store windows are shattered due to intense shaking. Images show residents camping outside, damaged roadways, and various stores in disarray with the merchandise on the floor.

“You have to remember that a lot of these buildings downtown were built in the early 1900’s, so they are not up to the astringent building codes we have today. They’ve been plastered over and changed identities many times… they’re very old. Luckily a lot of the structures are single or two stories, so damage was limited from shaking and things like that,” said Carrillo.

Most of the stores damaged in the downtown area were discount shops and other small retailers. Carrillo said that the only people allowed in the stores right now are the managers and one another person who can assist them. If a store has been red tagged, a structural engineer needs to accompany the store owner and tell then what they need to do to bring their stores into building codes and compliance.

Chuck Erickson, Vice President of the Southern California VOAD says that damage in the U.S. seems to be more commercial: “Not too many houses were damaged, it was mostly commercial buildings. Many stores have been affected.”

The quake could be devastating for the economy of Imperial County, which already has the highest unemployment rate in the state, said Hildy Carrillo, executive director of the Calexico Chamber of Commerce. "It will be months before downtown is back. It's a mess," she said.

The damage in the U.S seems to primarily affected California's southeastern Imperial Valley, however; shaking was felt as far away as Los Angeles, California, and Phoenix Arizona. Minor damage to buildings was reported in San Diego.

Erickson said in San Diego, he felt tremors from the aftershocks. “We had about 40 seconds of rolling shocks here yesterday and I haven’t felt much since that time, but there could be a few more coming.”

Closer to the quake, Carrillo’s experience was more intense: “I had my family and grandchildren there and everybody crowded in the hallway. There were a lot of things falling off shelves; wine bottles, pictures, two of my TV’s were broken. I’ve been living in Calexico since 1950, and this was the most I’ve ever experienced. A lot of the homes are young in that they’ve been built over the last 20-30 years, so in residential areas, damage was minimal and mostly limited to things falling inside of homes due to shaking… which is fortunate.”

Carrillo said that the town hopes to have damage assessments done by Wednesday. “We want store owners can be in there cleaning up Thursday and Friday, and by Sunday we hope to have reopened stores that aren’t red tagged and return to as much normalcy as possible.”

According to a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake was similar in size and power to the one that hit Haiti in January. It is the third major earthquake to hit Western Hemisphere during the past three months.

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