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In Ocotillo, the shaking has been 'nonstop'

A string of aftershocks has kept the tiny desert town on edge ever since a magnitude 7.2 quake struck Baja Mexico on Easter. After Monday's 5.7 temblor, 'everyone is freaked.'

June 16, 2010|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times

The 300 or so people who live in Ocotillo, Calif., had been on edge ever since a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Easter Sunday just across the Mexico border, causing minor damage in the tiny desert town.

And then the shaking came even closer to home.

The community just off Interstate 8 in Imperial County was five miles from the epicenter of the magnitude 5.7 earthquake that hit at 9:26 p.m. Monday.

Experts described that temblor as an aftershock of the April 4 quake in Baja California and said Ocotillo's trembling is far from over.

"With something as big as a 7.2, the aftershocks are going to continue for years or decades," said Susan Hough, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist.

The moderate quake near Ocotillo was the strongest of a swarm of quakes Monday along the Elsinore fault that rattled border communities and prompted a momentary shutdown of the San Diego Padres baseball game.

Residents of Ocotillo have been rattled by dozens of secondary aftershocks since Monday's quake.

Adam Sarver, 25, was on the couch watching TV when the walls started shaking violently, sending glasses and books crashing to the floor.

"It almost looked like the roof was going to come down," said Sarver, who manages an off-road-vehicle rental store. "There's been little rumblers here and there all night, and they've still been going on since then."

It was hard for Linda Ewing, 57, to find something around her house that wasn't damaged by the quake, which began just as she rested her head on her pillow to go to sleep.

"We are the epicenter, we had severe damage," she said. "We immediately lost power, because the transformer that fed our house fell off the pole. Nothing stayed on the walls."

Ewing, an electrical contractor, stayed up all night sweeping a pathway through the broken dishes, scattered clothing and furniture that trapped her in the dark house with nothing but an emergency flashlight. Even her solid-oak entertainment center toppled over, despite being affixed to the wall.

Elsewhere in Ocotillo — a town so small there are no stoplights and just a handful of businesses, a bar and a gas station among them — residents have reported broken pipes and cracks in the wells they rely on for drinking water. Mobile homes and the community center also sustained earthquake damage.

Many in Ocotillo had been feeling the Earth trembling in recent weeks as they finished cleaning up the damage from the April 4 quake. And then, like now, they worried that another would come.

"The activity has just increased dramatically, and since Easter it's been nonstop," Ewing said. "I'm sad to say, but everyone's on pins and needles. Everybody is just freaked."

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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