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Calexico Business Owners Worry Quake Rattled Economy Further


Calexico, 30 miles from the epicenter of Sunday’s earthquake, was not as badly damaged as Mexicali. But its downtown was hard hit.

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Above: The damage from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Mexicali, Mexico, on Sunday forced the closure of the business district of Calexico, California, just 30 miles north of the epicenter.

Calexico, 30 miles from the epicenter of Sunday’s earthquake, was not as badly damaged as Mexicali. But its downtown was hard hit. Calexico’s economy has been struggling for the past few years. Business owners worry Sunday’s quake may rattle it further.

Standing here in front of a clothing shop in downtown Calexico, one of the big plate glass windows has broken. There’s glass all over the ground. It looks like the inside of the store didn’t suffer much damage. The clothes are still hung on the rounders. And the dresses hung up for display are still there. Inspectors are going around the city red tagging the buildings. That’s marking the ones that are unsafe to go into.

"Some of the buildings took a beating. For the most part, they’re ok," says Armando Villa, Calexico’s development director. "I am surprised because this is the older part of town. It was built in the 20s, 30s. And most of us thought this was the big one, the one everyone was waiting for."

Calexico’s downtown business district took the brunt of the quake damage in the Imperial Valley. Dozens of aftershocks have rolled through.

City officials have had to cut the water supply from 10 million gallons a day down to four. They believe their water storage tanks have been damaged. Some areas of the city were still without power. And city officials didn’t know when it would be restored.

No one was strolling downtown’s streets Monday. It was closed to all but reporters, police and repair workers.

Villa says inspectors declared nine businesses too damaged to re-open.

Patrick Seul was one of those who had a red tag slapped on the door of his store.

For the last 21 years, he’s sold everything from jewel studded sunglasses to dish soap in the low slung, old-time building. "You can see it here, the liquid items. Soap that spilled off the shelves. Uh huh. The shaking, everything fall down. The mirrors, all broken. It’s a lot of work," Seul says.

He estimates it’ll take him at least five days to sop up the spills, sweep up the glass and pull permits to get a plate glass window replaced. "Right now it’s really terrible, it hurt a lot. You know, I stopped purchasing. Forty or 50 percent down, I guess."

Traffic from Mexicali usually supplies a stream of shoppers for Calexico’s downtown. But a few blocks down the street from Seul’s store, at the border crossing, about the only thing moving were lines of yellow caution tape flapping in the wind.

Authorities closed the border crossing Sunday afternoon. The quake shook bricks from the port of entry building. Authorities say it will remain closed while they assess the damage.

Louis Fuentes Chairs the Imperial County Board of Supervisors and was at the border crossing.

He says Sunday afternoon, he was one of the last cars to make it back to Calexico after mass and Easter lunch at his in-laws in Mexicali. "Saw windows shattering, walls tumbling and so it was pretty scary for my kids. I’ve lived here my whole life, but I think the last time they shut it down like this was when one of our presidents was shot. It’s been a while," said Fuentes.

Back downtown, one of the only businesses that wasn’t shut was one doing repairs.

Glass salesman Alex Hernandez was in high demand, going building to building as his workers swept broken glass from the sidewalk.

He says his phone has been ringing non-stop. "Their misfortune is my fortune."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in Calexico and the Imperial Valley. That frees up state resources to help with repairs.

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