A major 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck near Mexico-US border on Sunday, killing at least one person.
He said others were reported trapped in elevators, retaining walls had collapsed in some places and electricity was out in several parts of the state.
The relatively shallow quake was centered in a lightly populated area in northeastern Baja California near the city of Mexicali, Mexico, on the US border, knocking out power in chunks of the city and cutting off most phone communications.
A series of aftershocks rocked the area around the epicenter, 30 miles to the southeast of Mexicali and close to the town of Guadalupe Victoria.
"It's still shaking," said Nadia Camacho, a receptionist at a Mexicali hotel which suffered cracks to its floor and walls."We are all on alert. Nobody is inside the hotel, everybody's outside."
The US Geological Survey, or USGS, originally measured the quake as 6.9 but later raised it to 7.2, a magnitude that can cause serious damage to urban areas. It also revised the depth of the quake to 6.2 miles from 20 miles.
It was the largest earthquake in the region in nearly 18 years and was followed by aftershocks or distant "triggered" earthquakes on both sides of the border, USGS seismologist Lucy Jones told the Associated Press.
A multistory parking structure collapsed at the Mexicali city hall but no one was injured, said Baja California state Civil Protection Director Alfredo Escobedo.
Mexicali, home to roughly a million people, is a prosperous city and a busy border crossing with the United States. Local industry is mainly agriculture, food processing plants and assembly-for-export plants.
An empty multistory parking garage under construction in Mexicali collapsed and broken gas pipes sparked a number of fires, Baja California civil protection official Eduardo Sandoval told Mexican radio. He had no reports of casualties.
The New York Times reported that in Calexico, California, across the border from Mexicali, Carlton Hargrave, 64, was standing in the entryway of the Family Style Buffet restaurant when the quake hit. The restaurant, he said in a telephone interview, was "almost completely destroyed. We’ve got tables overturned, plates broken on the floor.”
“The ceilings caved in. It was big, I mean, it was major," he said in a shaky voice, as his feet moved over rubble and glass and plate fragments to produce a crunching sound.
In Tijuana, about 135 miles away from the epicenter, a Reuters witness said the quake visibly jolted cars in a parking lot and shook a computer on her desk. A highway between Tijuana and Mexicali was badly damaged, civil protection officials said.
Some neighborhoods of San Diego reported minor structural damage and burst water pipes and callers to local radio said the rolling tremor made it hard to keep vehicles on the road.
"This was by far in recent memory the biggest jolt to our area," said a commentator on local San Diego radio station.
People in Los Angeles, some 200 miles northwest of the epicenter, felt buildings swaying. "I'm shaking like a leaf ... the pool water was just going everywhere," said Jean Nelson in Indio, California, outside Palm Springs, about 120 miles from the epicenter.
Southern California with its many active faults is prone to frequent quakes, and many residents fearfully anticipate the next big one. The last to cause major damage was the 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake in 1994 that left 57 dead, injured 9,000 and resulted in about $40 billion in property damage.
The quake struck at 3:40 p.m. Pacific time (6:40 p.m. EDT).Multiple aftershocks included a 5.1 shock centered near the U.S.-Mexico border in Imperial, California.