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2 Strong Quakes Jolt Wide Area : 7.4 Desert Temblor Is Sharpest in 40 Years : Tremors: The shock in Yucca Valley is followed by a 6.5 jolt at Big Bear Lake. A child is killed and 171 people are injured. Slides block highways and a power blackout affects at least 550,000.


YUCCA VALLEY, Calif. — Two strong earthquakes and dozens of powerful aftershocks shook Southern California awake Sunday, causing one death and 171 injuries in the San Bernardino County desert and mountains but mostly sparing the urban sprawl from damage.

The violent temblors, which jostled skyscrapers as far away as Denver, ruptured the ground and buckled roadways in the high desert north of here. Residents in remote towns were left without water, and rockslides that blocked highways stranded vacationers in the Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead areas.

Power blackouts affected more than 550,000 people around the region, and downed power lines sparked about two dozen fires.

The first shaker struck at 4:58 a.m. in a rural area six miles north of Yucca Valley, a small desert community nestled along California 62 outside Joshua Tree National Monument. Rousing Sunday morning sleepers from northern Mexico to San Luis Obispo, the magnitude 7.4 quake was the strongest in California in 40 years and almost three times the strength of the destructive Bay Area earthquake of 1989.

Three hours later, a magnitude 6.5 temblor centered east of Big Bear Lake unleashed a new round of tremors, causing slides that temporarily trapped motorists and shrouded the San Bernardino Mountains in a massive dust cloud. Seismologists said it was on a different fault but may have been triggered by the earlier quake.

As strong aftershocks to both quakes continued through the morning, the state Office of Emergency Services issued an unprecedented advisory urging people to stay off freeways and curtail activity. Scientists called the event a "major earthquake sequence" and state authorities asked local governments to remain on alert.

After surveying the stricken region by helicopter, Gov. Pete Wilson declared a state of emergency in the counties of Riverside and San Bernardino. The declaration allows cities and counties to apply for state funds to make repairs.

Asked whether the state budget crisis will hamper the availability of funds, Wilson said: "We'll provide the help first and worry about that later."

Although major damage and injuries were confined to the remote desert and mountain towns near the epicenters, the temblors were the news du jour across Southern California Sunday. Some people stayed glued to their televisions for the continuing broadcasts mounted by all three networks, while others toted radios to the beach to stay abreast of the story.

Everybody had a tale to tell, especially the region's shaken tourists--300 of whom were evacuated from the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

"It was like being on top of a mast in a sailboat," said Gerry Zemojtel, 38, of Tacoma, Wash., one of the evacuees. "When I went to grab my baby out of the crib, I reached in and he rolled by and I missed him."

The morning's first quake landed its toughest punch on the string of rustic towns that straddle California 62 east of Palm Springs--Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree, all of which suffered damage in a 6.1-magnitude quake just two months ago.

In Sunday's shaking, the wall of a bowling alley and the roof of a K Mart in Yucca Valley collapsed, mobile homes were tossed off their foundations, water mains were snapped and four dwellings were destroyed or badly damaged by fires.

The town's main supermarket and numerous other businesses closed because of damage and toppled goods, and the lone fatality directly linked to the quake occurred in Yucca Valley when a 3 1/2-year-old boy was crushed by falling bricks. The toddler, Joseph Bishop, was asleep near a living room chimney when the bricks fell on him, authorities said.

"We lost a member of our family, a loved one," said the child's father, who declined to give his name or discuss the circumstances surrounding the boy's death.

Friends of the family said the child's parents, who live in Newbury Port, Mass., were visiting their hometown and staying with friends while attending a 20th reunion at Yucca Valley High School. Two other children were asleep in the living room but escaped serious injury.

Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree treated 94 people for minor injuries. Twelve people were hospitalized.

Desert residents described the quake as a long, terrifying ride that was dramatically stronger and sharper than the temblor they experienced on April 23.

"It was like someone picked me up out of bed and threw me on the floor," said Cindy Ness of Yucca Valley. "Every time I tried to get up it threw me back down again. Everything in the room was crashing down around me."

Sipping coffee on her front lawn Sunday morning, an edgy Edie McDowell said her house "shook like mad--back and forth and back and forth, incredible contortions." The force of the quake uprooted a toilet in her son's home and toppled all his fish tanks.

"I am scared to death," McDowell said, adding that she planned to "grab my sleeping bag" and spend Sunday night on the grass outside.

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