TIJUANA, Mexico – One of the strongest earthquakes to hit Southern California in nearly two decades shook tens of millions of people in two countries and three states on Sunday, swaying buildings from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Tijuana. At least two people were killed in Mexico.
The 7.2-magnitude quake struck at 3:40 p.m. PDT, about 38 miles southeast of the border city of Mexicali, Mexico, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It had a depth of 6 miles. Three aftershocks of magnitudes 5.1, 4.5 and 4.3 followed within the hour.
“It sounds like it’s felt by at least 20 million people at this point,” USGS seismologist Lucy Jones said. “Most of Southern California felt this earthquake.”
The earthquake was felt the hardest in Mexicali, a bustling commerce center along the border.
Baja California state Civil Protection Director Alfredo Escobedo said a man was killed when his home collapsed just outside of Mexicali. A second man was killed in the street.
At least 100 people were injured, most of them struck by falling objects. At least 20 aftershocks were felt in the city, he said.
Rescue teams with dogs and digging equipment were rushing to the city from nearby Tijuana, but a landslide along that highway was slowing traffic.
All 300 patients had to be evacuated from the Mexicali General Hospital to other clinics because the building had no electricity or water, Escobedo said. Blackouts were widespread throughout the city and telephone communication was patchy.
As darkness fell there were growing reports of damage on the U.S. side of the border in Calexico, a city of about 27,000, but no injuries.
“We have some substantial damage here in our older section of Calexico,” Fire Chief Peter Mercado told KABC-TV Los Angeles.
Some gas lines were leaking and parts of the water system were damaged, he said.
The Fire Department responded to several calls to transport sick and elderly people to hospitals because of power outages and gas problems.
More than 100 miles west of the epicenter, San Diego’s Sheraton Hotel and Marina was briefly evacuated after minor cracks were discovered in the floors, said Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Maurice Luque.
Elsewhere in San Diego, there were reports of shattered windows, broken pipes and water main breaks in private buildings, but no reports of injuries, Luque said. Coronado Bridge over San Diego Bay was briefly closed by the California Highway Patrol as a precaution.
In nearby Tijuana, Mexico, the quake caused buildings to sway and knocked out power in some areas. The quake was centered in an area has been seismically active lately, but until Sunday, the earthquakes had been largely of around magnitude-3.0.
Scientists said the main earthquake probably occurred on a fault that hadn’t ruptured in over a century. Preliminary data suggest the quake occurred on the Laguna Salada fault, which last broke in 1892 with a magnitude-7.2 quake.
The main quake was initially reported as magnitude-6.9. The updated magnitude was still an estimate, but if it holds it would be California’s largest temblor since the 7.3-magnitude Landers quake hit in 1992, Jones said. There were at least two other 7.2-magnitude quakes in the last 20 years.
The quake was felt hundreds of miles away in Phoenix, where residents rarely feel the earth shake. The fire and medical dispatch center in downtown Las Vegas felt the quake as well, but there were no reports of damage or injuries, according to Tim Szymanski, a spokesman for Las Vegas Fire and Rescue.