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Was it a Mexico quake or a border quake?

April 6, 2010 |  9:56 am

Mexicali damage 

It is the strangest thing about life in the far northwest of Mexico and far southwest of the United States. The international border is there, policed and guarded, its crossing coveted by millions -- for Mexicans, to work, for Americans, to "get away from it all." The boundary divides the First World from the developing world, the wealthy neighbor from the poor one. But in so many ways, the line is invisible, not there at all.

Earthquakes, for one, know no borders. And neither do "earthquake cultures."

The magnitude 7.2 quake that hit the region on Sunday afternoon, killing two but otherwise wreaking little havoc, reminds us of this. Mexicali, the capital of Baja California state, did not suffer any more considerable damage than its sister city on the U.S. side, much smaller Calexico. Same for the nearby twin cities of San Diego and Tijuana.

There was minimal damage overall reported compared with that in the aftermath of the weaker January quake in Haiti. The Imperial Valley and Mexicali region is sparsely populated relative to Port-au-Prince, for one, but also, as a Mexican engineer told the Christian Science Monitor, builders in Baja "have been influenced by American engineering." More:

Experts from both countries share research and therefore end up with similar building codes, says Stephen Mahin, a structural engineer at the University of California, Berkeley. He says that Mexicali's proximity with the US has led to a robust interchange of information on how to build correctly.

[Civil engineer Eduardo] Miranda says that, unlike in the U.S., residential housing does not have the same standards as commercial buildings, which means many people build their own homes without the input of an engineer. But he says people still build smarter because of their experience with earthquakes.

And yet, this passage from The Times' second-day story on the earthquake brought to mind once more that contradiction of life on the border:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon visited a hard-hit village near the epicenter late Monday afternoon, touching down in a helicopter to hand out the first bags of food and listen to residents' complaints.

"Do not be scared," he told the crowd in Colonia de la Puerta. "We will do everything we can for you."

As he spoke, convoys of Californians drove past in sport-utility vehicles and trucks, heading home from vacation.

Check out photos from the quake at the San Diego Union-Tribune, here and here. The Voice of San Diego has highlights of coverage from the Web, including amateur videos of sloshing backyard pools. And of course you can see this photo gallery from the Times' Don Bartletti.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

For the latest on the earthquake and other news from Latin America keep reading La Plaza, and follow the @LATimesWorld on Twitter or become a fan of the Los Angeles Times World on Facebook.

Photo: Cracks in the concrete are seen in Mexicali after Sunday afternoon's earthquake. Credit: San Diego Union-Tribune.

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