A powerful earthquake on Sunday swayed buildings from Los Angeles to Tijuana, killing two people in Mexico, blacking out cities and forcing the evacuation of hospitals.
The 7.2-magnitude quake, which was centred just south of the US border near Mexicali, Mexico, was one of the strongest earthquakes to hit the region in decades.
It struck at 3.40pm on Sunday (11.40pm BST), according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).
“It sounds like it’s felt by at least 20M people at this point,” USGS seismologist Lucy Jones said. “Most of Southern California felt this earthquake.”
The quake was felt the hardest in Mexicali, a bustling commerce centre along Mexico’s border with California, where authorities said the quake was followed by at least 20 smaller aftershocks, including three of magnitudes 5.1, 4.5 and 4.3. The initial quake had a shallow depth of six miles.
Building construction has improved in northern Mexico, a region with a history of quakes, said Carlos Valdes, chief of the Mexican National Seismological Service.
“People see that it always shakes and have improved their construction capacity,” Valdes said. “Then when the construction codes are implemented, there is stricter control, especially in larger structures.”
Still, at least 45 businesses and dozens of homes were destroyed in Mexicali, a bustling commercial centre along Mexico’s border with California where the quake hit hardest, said Baja California state governer Jose Guadalupe Osuna.
Strong shaking was reported across much of Southern California. The earthquake rattled buildings on the west side of Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley.
More than 160km west of the epicentre, 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. All guests were later allowed to return.
Elsewhere in San Diego, there were reports of shattered windows, broken pipes and water main breaks in private buildings, but no reports of injuries. Coronado Bridge over San Diego Bay was briefly closed by the California Highway Patrol as a precaution.
Large cracks opened in the streets of Mexicali. Power lines fell, lamp posts were bent, bricks fell from buildings and furniture and merchandise was strewn around in shops and banks. Wells crumbled and the waters of a canal spilled into some streets.
Mexicali General Hospital was evacuated because of the structural damage to the building, which also was without electricity and water.