/ 6 April 2010

Mexico-California border towns shaken after quake

Mexico California Border Towns Shaken After Quake

Scared families south of the Mexico-California border readied to sleep outside for a second night on Monday after a big earthquake tore cracks in roads and houses and dozens of aftershocks rattled the area.

Two people died and more than 200 were injured on Sunday when a 7,2 magnitude quake rocked the area around the border city of Mexicali. Baja California Governor Jose Osuna said the victims were crushed by a collapsed house and a falling wall.

The tremor, felt as far north as Los Angeles, cracked main roads, toppled electricity posts and knocked down an empty multi-storey parking lot under construction in Mexicali, a prosperous industrial city and busy border crossing.

Dozens of smaller tremors continued to shake buildings in Mexicali, adding to fears of another big quake. On top of those opting to sleep outdoors, Osuna said 3 500 people with badly damaged homes would be moved to shelters.

In the nearby town of Guadalupe Victoria, near the quake’s epicentre, officials passed out water, blankets and food to scores of people camping in tents or cars, too afraid to return home. One person dragged a mattress outside to sleep on.

“We’re panicking over the aftershocks,” said Juana Cabrera who spent Sunday night on the street with 20 family members including a 3-month-old baby and a 68-year-old grandmother after a wall in her house fell down.

Broken gas pipes sparked fires on Sunday — burning down a department store in the border town of San Luis Rio Colorado — and briefly darkened streets in Mexicali causing car accidents, but no major buildings collapsed.

Power was mostly re-established in Mexicali on Monday, but some hospitals lay patients out on beds in parking lots due to worries over cracked walls. Many stores, banks and restaurants stayed shut, with employees frightened to return to work.

‘Just barely made it’
“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 United States Geological Survey, said.

“There might be a few structures that just barely made it through and the second one could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

A highway connecting Mexicali with the nearby border city of Tijuana on the Pacific coast was ruptured by a crevice at least a metre deep, according to a Reuters witness.

A liquefied natural gas import terminal south of Tijuana was not damaged however, operator Sempra Energy said.

Home to more than a million people, Mexicali is a centre for food processing and assembly-for-export plants.

Vacationers returning from Easter holidays were stuck in traffic jams and motorists reported difficulty finding fuel, even though state oil company Pemex said supply was fine.

Sunday’s quake was centred in a lightly populated area but rattled nerves in the US and across Latin America, which has been shaken by devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile this year.

Over the border in the US town of Calexico, some downtown blocks were closed off as Border Patrol agents helped police secure the area against looters. Stores had leaning awnings, smashed windows and broken vases in window displays.

“It was violent, like the earth was mad … My home was shaking very violently, pictures coming off the walls, then the TVs came down,” said local fire fighter Channing Dawson.

Earthquakes of 7,0 can do serious damage to urban areas.

Some parts of San Diego reported minor structural damage and callers to local radio said the rolling tremor made it hard to keep cars on the road. In Los Angeles, buildings swayed.

Southern California, with its many geological faults, is prone to frequent quakes and many residents fear the next big one. The last to cause major damage was the 6,7 magnitude Northridge quake in 1994 that left 57 dead and 9 000 injured. — Reuters