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Workers Clear Roads; Quake Damage Rises to $5 Million

July 10, 1986|LOUIS SAHAGUN | Times Staff Writer

PALM SPRINGS — Road crews repaired cracked highways, applied jackhammers to boulders blocking California 111 and shored up damaged bridges Wednesday as authorities revised damage estimates from Tuesday's early morning earthquake upward to about $5 million.

Riverside County authorities also raised the number of reported injuries from 22 to 29.

Of those, six were being treated at Desert Hospital in Palm Springs or Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, mainly for heart problems. One patient, described as an elderly woman, was in critical condition being treated for a heart attack. Other reported injuries included cuts, scrapes, strains and chest pains, said Tom Ramsey, Riverside County Emergency Services Division spokesman.

Ramsey said a 96-year-old man found dead in a recreational vehicle in North Palm Springs died of natural causes unrelated to the earthquake.

Meanwhile, earthquake experts at Caltech downgraded their estimate of the magnitude of the quake from 6.0 to 5.9 on the Richter scale. By late Wednesday afternoon, the scientists said, they had recorded 20 aftershocks with magnitudes between 3.0 and 4.0, and hundreds of smaller ones discernible only to scientific instruments.

Long Shake

The quake struck along a section of the San Andreas Fault system at 2:21 a.m. Tuesday and lasted 20 to 30 seconds.

Although life was returning to normal Wednesday throughout the northwestern Coachella Valley nearest the epicenter, continuing aftershocks kept residents jittery.

"I've felt at least half dozen already this morning," said Anna Abston, 48, manager of the Western Village Mobile Home Ranch at 11:30 a.m. The mobile home park sustained some of the heaviest damage in the largest quake to hit Southern California in seven years.

At least 32 of the 129 mobile homes at the park sustained minor damage, and two were destroyed, Abston said.

Riverside County Emergency Services Division authorities estimated damage at the park at $150,000.

In all, three mobile homes in the vicinity of the epicenter, about 12 miles northwest of Palm Springs, were destroyed. Twelve homes sustained major damage and 36 minor damage, Riverside County authorities said.

Ramsey said the damage total could climb further.

"A lot of the people out there are not permanent residents," he noted. "They live in the homes during the winter and leave when the temperature starts hitting 90. We'll have to wait for them to come by and assess the damage."

Meanwhile, Southern California Edison Co. officials were working around the clock to repair the severely damaged Devers electrical substation, located between Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs, which receives a 500,000-volt transmission line from the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant in Arizona.

Edison spokesman Bob Hull said the quake short-circuited equipment at the station, which supplies electricity to about 100,000 users in the Palm Springs, Twentynine Palms and Banning areas.

"It was like hitting a fuse box with a sledgehammer," said Hull, who estimated damage to the station at $2.5 million to $3 million.

The rocking motion of the quake knocked porcelain-glass insulators off 10-foot perches, snapped steel cables and caused a 650,000-pound transformer to "walk 10 inches to the south," said John Kelley, substation chief.

By rerouting power through many alternate circuits, Southern California Edison was able to restore power to its users in the area.

The potential for blackouts brought on by the weakened system was averted in part, Hull said, because local users heeded requests against using non-essential electrical equipment.

"We're still asking them to continue giving their appliances a break in the afternoons," Hull said. He added that the system should be returned to normal within two to three weeks.

The power loss at the substation triggered outages at two Metropolitan Water District pumping stations for the Colorado River Aqueduct in the area. MWD spokesman Bob Gomper said that as a result of the outages, about 975 million gallons of water valued at $255,000 had to be dumped into a dry lake bed in the desert to relieve backup pressure on the pumping stations. The amount of the loss was revised downward from Tuesday's estimate.

"We resumed full flow Wednesday afternoon," he said.

The Times incorrectly reported Wednesday that the water loss had been from the California Aqueduct, which was not damaged by the quake.

Riverside County officials continued to assess the damage in what they indicated was the first step toward applying for federal emergency relief.

However, some local residents are not waiting for government assistance.

At the Western Village Mobile Home Park, manager Abston said residents began a fund-raising drive to help a 77-year-old widow who lost her trailer and her only live-in companion, a Maltese toy spaniel. The dog, who died of an apparent heart attack, was the only known fatality in the quake.

Tuesday's earthquake failed to produce an immediate increase in demand for earthquake insurance, but insurance officials expect a surge in inquiries in the days ahead. Part IV, Page 1.

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