7.2 Quake Shakes Region

The earthquake centered Baja California kills at least two in Mexico

By Michelle Wayland and Eric S. Page
|  Wednesday, Apr 7, 2010  |  Updated 4:45 PM PDT
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Sunday's quake may be the strongest the region has felt.
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At least two people have died from the 7.2 earthquake in Baja California that shook the region Sunday, damaging buildings in San Diego, shattering windows and ripping a hole in a road in El Centro.

The largest earthquake in the region in nearly 18 years struck at 3:40 p.m. Sunday more than 100 miles southeast of San Diego. The USGS originally said the quake was a 6.9 but later upgraded that figure to 7.2.

Baja California state Civil Protection Director Alfredo Escobedo says one of the victim's homes collapsed just outside Mexicali, close to the epicenter of the 7.2-magnitude quake. Escobedo said there were reports of more people trapped in homes in Mexicali and rescue teams with dogs and digging equipment are rushing to the city from nearby Tijuana.

There were no reports of U.S. deaths or injuries.

This side of the border, there is substantial damage in the older section of Calexico. Fire Chief Peter Mercado says there is structural damage and broken windows, leaking gas lines and damage to the water system. But he says no injuries have been reported. Drew Road was closed after the earthquake ripped the road apart leaving a gaping hole.

At the Sports Arena, the shaking was enough to shatter large glass windows at both the north and south entrances.

Most buildings downtown suffered only minor damage. Experts at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD said Southern California building codes are extremely tough, so structures stand up well to earthquakes.

Down at Mission Beach, Belmont Park temporarily closed several of its rides, including the roller coaster after the quake so they could be inspected. The park told us there were people on some of the rides at the time of the quake, but not on the roller coaster.

More than 5,000 Southern California Edison customers were affected, mostly with a 30 seconds of flickering lights.

There are no reports of any injuries from the quake in San Diego County, according to San Diego Fire and Rescue.

USGS seismologist Susan Potter said the quake was felt all over the county and as far north as Santa Barbara.  It was felt for about 40 seconds in Tijuana, Mexico, causing buildings to sway and knocking out power in parts of the city. Families celebrating Easter ran out of the homes, with children screaming and crying.

Authorities said the strong quake was followed by many smaller aftershocks, including five with magnitudes between 5.0 and 5.4 and all centered in Mexico. A Monday morning magnitude-4.8 aftershock was centered between El Centro, Calif., and Imperial, Calif.

The bigger 7.2 quake struck about 19 miles southeast of Mexicali, a bustling commerce center on the Mexican side of the border where trucks carrying goods cross into California. More than 900,000 people live in the greater Mexicali area.

A multistory parking structure collapsed at the Mexicali city hall but no one was injured, said Baja California state Civil Protection Director Alfredo Escobedo.

"I grabbed my children and said, 'Let's go outside, hurry, hurry!"' said Elizabeth Alvarez, 54, who said the quake hit as she was getting ready to leave her house with her children in an eastern Tijuana neighborhood.

Hundreds of people fled Tijuana's beach fearing a tsunami, said Capt. Juan Manuel Hernandez, chief of aquatic rescue at the Tijuana fire department. Tsunami experts quickly reported that no tsunami was expected along the West Coast, and Hernandez said the beach filled back up with people within an hour.

Tijuana Fire Chief Rafael Carillo said firefighters were rescuing people trapped in an elevator at the Ticuan Hotel in downtown Tijuana, but mostly were responding to reports of fallen cables and minor damage to buildings.

Did you feel it? Comment below, on Twitter @NBCSanDiego or on our NBCSanDiego Facebook page. 

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