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Mexicali earthquake halts some elevators in L.A. high-rises

April 6, 2010 |  7:56 am

Three strangers waited for the elevator at the Wilshire State Bank building Monday morning. One of them, a businessman, pushed the "up" button. Nothing happened.

He pushed it again. Still nothing.

Five long minutes passed. The man walked over to a stand of Korean newspapers, took one, and started reading.

Similar scenes played out across the region Monday after Sunday's magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Baja California stopped or slowed elevator service in some Los Angeles buildings.

"The calls are rolling in," said Michael Mateyko, an elevator repairman with Hoist Elevator Co.

Other elevator companies reported a similarly busy morning. Mateyko said managers of buildings near the airport and along Miracle Mile called him to say, "Hey, our elevators are down. What's up?"

Most elevators that have been modernized or built in the last 15 years have earthquake detection devices, Mateyko said. When the sensor is triggered, the elevator stops at the nearest floor and opens its doors so that no one is trapped inside. Before service can resume, the elevator must be inspected and the sensor reset.

To the chagrin of security guards at the office building in mid-Wilshire, the repairmen had not yet arrived Monday morning, which meant they had a lot of explaining to do.

"Hola, Jose," one of them said to a maintenance worker, who was one of the three strangers waiting for the elevators. "The earthquake messed up the elevators," he said in Spanish. "We're using the stairs."

But Jose was going to one of the top floors of the 14-floor building, and he was carrying a heavy tool kit. He and the others said they would prefer to go up in the one elevator that was working, even after the security guard warned them it would be a slow ride.

"That 7.2," the guard said as he ushered the group into the working elevator, "Whoa! The house was wobbling side to side."

Just before the doors closed, a woman dripping from the rain squeezed in.

"12 please," she said.

The guard told her the elevator was sluggish and could travel only one floor at a time. He said he would take the three passengers who had been waiting to their floors first.

"Oh my God!" she said, dropping her bag on the floor in a huff.

"My bad for the inconvenience," the guard apologized.

"I really don't understand," she said. "I really don't get it."

The elevator crept from floor to floor, depositing its passengers one by one. When the rain-soaked woman finally stepped off, the guard smiled.

"People are getting impatient up here," he said. When it was time for them to come down, he said, they'd have to take the stairs.

-- Kate Linthicum