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One death reported in Baja quake [updated]

April 4, 2010 |  8:14 pm
After a 7.2 earthquake struck Mexicali, a woman goes into labor at a damaged hospital in the Mexicali area.At least one man died and several homes burned in northern Mexico after the magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck near the California-Mexico border Sunday.

A man was killed when his home collapsed just outside Mexicali, a civil protection chief told the Associated Press. A parking garage also collapsed in the border town of 653,000. 

[Updated 11:06 - Baja California state Civil Protection Director Alfredo Escobedo said a second man was killed when he panicked as the ground shook, ran into the street and was struck by a car. At least 100 people were injured, most of them struck by falling objects. At least 20 aftershocks were felt in the city, he said: “It has not stopped trembling in Mexicali.” ]

Oscar Silas, a firefighter at a station 10 miles west of Mexicali, said that at least six homes were destroyed by fires caused by the quake. The blazes started when household propane tanks were damaged and electricity lines were severed, he said. 

He said the fire department had also received reports that several houses near the volcano Cerro Prieto -- about 19 miles from the quake’s epicenter -- sank into the ground as water rose up around them.

The quake knocked out power and broke water lines, making it difficult to respond to emergencies and assess the damage, Silas said.

“We don’t have any electricity, so communication…is very bad,” he said.

Minor damage was reported in some Southern California locales. Windows shattered at the San Diego Sports Arena. In El Centro, authorities reported some damage at a local hospital, mobile homes shaken off their foundations and chimneys collapsed.

The quake probably occurred on the Laguna Salada fault, which is about 40 to 50 miles long and straddles the California-Mexico border, seismologists said.

The Laguna Salada fault zone lies underneath desert, to the south of the San Andreas fault, seismologists said, roughly at the midpoint of the California-Baja California border. 

“This is a pretty good-sized earthquake on the tectonic boundaries between the Pacific and North American plates,” said Frank Vernon, a research seismologist at UC San Diego. The earthquake was centered 37 miles south of Mexicali.

Both Vernon and Caltech seismologist Lucy Jones said geologists won’t make a final determination about which fault ruptured until scientists can inspect the earthquake zone.

The last time a quake caused a surface rupture on the Laguna Salada fault was in 1892, when a magnitude 7 temblor hit. But the region where Sunday’s quake occurred has been seismically active for the past year, and there were several foreshocks that occurred, beginning last Wednesday, with magnitudes between 3 and 4, Jones said.

“This area is a very active area. There have been swarms at many times,” Jones said.

The earthquake hit at 3:40 p.m., 37 miles south of Mexicali and about 220 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Several major aftershocks have already hit the area and triggered a magnitude 3 earthquake six miles off the coast of Malibu. Seismologists initially said the Malibu quake was magnitude 4.1 and later revised it to 3.0.

-- Alan Zarembo, Rong-Gong Lin II and Ruben Vives in Los Angeles; Richard Winton in Pasadena; and Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: A woman goes into labor at a damaged hospital in the Mexicali area. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times