Roads were torn up, buildings cracked and electricity posts toppled on Monday after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook cities in northern Mexico and Southern California, but few casualties were reported.
Mexican civil protection officials said at least one man died in a collapsed house and about 100 more were injured in Sunday’s quake.
Another person was killed in a car accident on a darkened street in Mexicali, a border city near the epicentre of Sunday’s quake, which was almost entirely without power.
Some buildings in Mexicali appeared to have structural damage and many had cracked floors, walls and broken windows, though no major buildings collapsed.
A liquefied natural gas import terminal operated by Sempra Energy south of Tijuana was not damaged by the quake, a company spokeswoman said.
However, a major highway connecting Mexicali with Tijuana on the Pacific coast was badly damaged by a crack that opened up that was at least a meter (3 feet) deep, according to a Reuters witness.
Vacationers returning from their Easter holidays found themselves snarled in huge traffic jams with many motorists reporting difficulty finding fuel.
“Thank God nothing happened to us. Now we just have to wait until the police let us fuel up,” said Maria Lopez, who said she had been waiting four hours for gasoline to allow her to return to Tijuana.
Despite the relatively light casualties, the powerful quake rattled nerves in the United States and across tremor-prone Latin America in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile this year.
HOURS OF AFTERSHOCKS
Telephone and electricity crews struggled to restore service in Mexicali and the surrounding area, which is home to more than one million people and is a prosperous centre for food processing and assembly for exports.
The relatively shallow quake was cantered in a lightly populated area in northeastern Baja California. For several hours a series of aftershocks rocked the area around the epicentre, 30 miles (50 km) southeast of Mexicali.
Across the border in the U.S. town of Calexico, eight downtown blocks were closed off with Border Patrol agents helping police to secure the area against looters.
Store fronts had leaning awnings, smashed windows and broken crockery vases strewn in the window displays.
“It was violent, like the earth was mad … My home was shaking very violently, pictures coming off the walls, then the TVs came down,” said Channing Dawson, a firefighter with the Calexico Fire Department.
Several Mexican families wandered the streets carrying suitcases, hoping to spend the night with relatives on the U.S. side of the border.
“The number one thing is public safety, with continued aftershocks. If these buildings come down, people can get hurt, the second thing is looting,” police Lieutenant Gonzalo Gerardo told Reuters.
“There’s a lot of structural damage, really big cracks in the buildings, broken glass, so right now everything is shut down until the building inspectors get into carry out inspections to see if they are safe,” he said. “We will not know what the damage is until tomorrow.”
The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at 7.2, a magnitude that can cause serious damage to urban areas.
Some neighbourhoods 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.
In Los Angeles, some 200 miles (320 km) northwest of the epicentre, people felt buildings swaying.
Southern California with its many active geological 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 and 9,000 injured.
(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Calexico and Robert Campbell and Tomas Sarmiento in Mexico City; Writing by Robert Campbell and Catherine Bremer; editing by Chris Wilson)