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Mexicali Earthquake Reshapes Lives And Landscape

Above: Residents survey the damage to a building after an earthquake April 5, 2010 in Mexicali, Mexico.

Audio

Aired 4/26/10

The ground hasn’t stopped moving since a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Mexicali three weeks ago. The quake rattled downtown San Diego. Luckily, just two people died. But the quake ruptured more than 25,000 lives in Mexicali and may have changed the landscape forever.

The ground hasn’t stopped moving since a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Mexicali three weeks ago. The quake rattled downtown San Diego. Luckily, just two people died. But the quake ruptured more than 25,000 lives in Mexicali and may have changed the landscape forever.

Mexicali resident Lino Camacho has hauled everything from inside of his home out into the yard for fear it will be crushed in an aftershock from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that shook the region on April 4, 2010.
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Above: Mexicali resident Lino Camacho has hauled everything from inside of his home out into the yard for fear it will be crushed in an aftershock from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that shook the region on April 4, 2010.

A soldier chops sausages to prepare for the following day's breakfast. The army provides 7,500 hot meals a day to people who lost their homes from the Easter earthquake.
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Above: A soldier chops sausages to prepare for the following day's breakfast. The army provides 7,500 hot meals a day to people who lost their homes from the Easter earthquake.

The 7.2 magnitude Easter earthquake damaged hundreds of kilometers of roads in Mexicali and made flat, straight roads hilly and curved.
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Above: The 7.2 magnitude Easter earthquake damaged hundreds of kilometers of roads in Mexicali and made flat, straight roads hilly and curved.

Forty percent of Mexicali's wheat crop was damaged from the earthquake. The wheat is prized in Italy for making pasta.
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Above: Forty percent of Mexicali's wheat crop was damaged from the earthquake. The wheat is prized in Italy for making pasta.

Along the highway little tent cities have sprouted up amongst the scrub here in the Mexicali Valley.

We’re about 30 miles south of Calexico.

This is where thousands of people fled and have lived since the earthquake.

Jose Coronel had been here for almost three weeks, "Every morning I look at the trees off in this distance and think, that’s where my house is. We’re all sad because we want to be home."

Coronel says when the quake hit he thought the world was ending. Water shot up from the ground. "People were yelling, get out, the ocean is coming! Bridges fell. Roads flooded. Some people ran for the hills. I went for the highway because I knew it was high ground," Coronel exclaimed.

He and people from his church set up camp together about four miles from their little village. They pooled their money to buy food.

Church groups and radio stations from California brought tents and piles of clothes.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has declared the area a disaster zone. He freed up about $3.5 million for the first round of relief.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in the Valley won’t leave their homes. They’re scared looters will steal their things, or aftershocks will crush them.

Like Lino Camacho, they’re camping in their yards. "I hauled everything outside. Furniture -- there’s my dining table, refrigerator. The kitchen cabinets, that filled with water when a geyser erupted beneath the house," Camacho says.

Camacho’s parents built his home 60 years ago. He’s lived there his whole life. It’s made of adobe bricks.

"The history the house had, that’s what hurts. I’ve cried. I’ve cried. My brothers came from San Diego and Tijuana. I’m not crying now, but I am on the inside. My heart is sad."

Camacho says the government of Mexico has promised him about $80 during the next few weeks to clean up. He calls it a pittance.

He lost his job hanging drywall across the border in Calexico when the economy tanked.

"Government officials told me they’d come look at the house in the week. I just want to know what’s next."

The Governor of Baja California’s spokesman, Alejandro Contreras, says there are 14 shelters in the valley where people can eat and sleep while government inspectors evaluate the damaged homes.

"We're trying to relocate families to safe areas. He says they’ll give them the land and a foundation or a trailer. The trailers are FEMA’s leftovers from Hurricane Katrina," says Contreras.

FEMA has made buyers promise they won’t be used as homes. The trailers emit dangerous levels of formaldehyde, especially when it’s hot. It’s not clear if Baja California officials know that.

Across the valley, more than 200,000 acres of wheat rustle in the wind. The quake damaged more than 40 percent of the crop.

It's one of the largest in Mexico. The flour is shipped around the world.

The quake destroyed hundreds of miles of irrigation canals that carry water to the crops.

Arturo Landa stands next to one of his tractors.

"What’s happening in the valley will have repercussions outside. If growers don’t have money, neither will their workers who shop in the city. And if there isn’t wheat, the companies that export it will have to tell workers to go home," says Landa.

Carlos Camarillo worked the fields before the quake cracked the walls of his home and shook up his life.

One recent evening, he and his wife, Guadalupe, and their two young children ate dinner under tent.

It's one of dozens the Mexican Army set up on a soccer field a few days after the quake.

"This is where we eat. But we can’t eat here for the rest of our lives."

Her husband doesn’t have work. They don’t have money to buy food.

The army says they’ll continue to pump out 7,500 hot meals a day like they have since a few days after the quake for as long as people around the valley need it.

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