The 7.2 Mexicali earthquake that struck northern Mexico and rocked swaths of the American southwest Sunday was the region's most powerful in decades - more powerful than the one that hit Haiti. It was also a relatively shallow earthquake, at six miles underground, meaning it could wreak mass destruction.
Still, the quake frayed nerves in the wake of tragedies in Haiti and Chile.
“One way or another, we have the disasters in Chile and Haiti in the back of our heads. There is a fear that it could happen to us at any moment,” says Antonio Fernandez, the manager of Hotel Mexico in Mexicali, in a phone interview. “It seemed that the earth would never stop shaking, and the aftershocks are constant.”
One man was reported dead outside Mexicali, close to the epicenter of the earthquake, when his house collapsed around him, said Alfredo Escobedo, director of emergency services in Baja California.
Roads cracked in half
Local newspapers published photos of roadways cracked in half. A photograph sent via Twitter showed the second level of a two-story house collapsed over its garage in Mexicali.
The extent of damage was still unknown. On Sunday evening electricity was still out in much of the state of Baja California. In Mexicali, phone lines were down. It was impossible to get in touch with many establishments late Sunday night. Other phone conversations were quickly ended after lines cut out.
“It was terrible, it was so strong, one of the strongest I’ve felt,” says Ramon Fregoso, a resident of Mexicali, which has about one million residents, in a telephone interview.
Trapped in homes
Officials reported that many residents in the city were still trapped in their homes from a quake that is the worst to have hit the area in several years. A state of emergency has been declared in Baja California, and teams from Tijuana were en route to Mexicali Sunday night to aid in rescue efforts.
Mr. Fregoso, who was in his house when the earthquake struck during Easter Sunday, says he ran to the ground floor of his house and outside with his family. A few objects fell and walls cracked in his home, he says, but he did not see extensive damage.
Fregoso says he has not heard from all his family members since communication was down, and he was following the news of the earthquake through the radio in his car, since electricity was out.
Mr. Fernandez says that his hotel suffered only slight damages, but they have no water or light.
Still, the psychological toll is high, not only with recent tragedies in the Latin America still fresh but because of the widespread belief that this region of the US and Mexico could face the “big one” at any moment.
“We are trying to remain calm,” he says. “But this is definitely the worst quake I have ever felt in my life.”
[Editor's note: The story originally stated that shallow quakes are less damaging. The opposite tends to be true, depending on the geography of the quake zone.]