Analysis: Aftermath of Mexicali Earthquake
Maureen Cavanaugh: We'll get the latest news about the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Baja, California on Sunday.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. San Diego seems to have weathered yesterday’s big earthquake pretty well. Some shattered glass, water leaks, cracked walls, at least one evacuation of a hotel, and the AP reports a Julian resident got a lump on the head when something was shaken off a shelf in a store, and one person was hurt when he fell while running out of his Chula Vista home. But, all in all, San Diego came through this powerful 7.2 earthquake, which was centered south of Mexicali, pretty well. The situation, however, in Imperial Valley and Baja is not quite as good. And I’d like to welcome my guest Brad Jennings. He is editor of the Imperial Valley Press. Good morning, Brad, and thanks for being with us this morning.
BRAD JENNINGS (Editor, Imperial Valley Press): Good morning. You know, what’s interesting, as you were doing your lead-in there, the ground starts shaking again. I’m holding onto my desk.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, an aftershock. Another aftershock. We’re going to be talking with some geology professors about those aftershocks that keep on hitting. But, first of all, thanks for being here this morning.
JENNINGS: You’re welcome.
CAVANAUGH: In one piece.
JENNINGS: We’re still hanging in there.
CAVANAUGH: All right. Now I want to tell our listeners we’re taking your calls this hour and next if you have questions or comments about yesterday’s earthquake. Our number is 1-888-895-5727 or you can post your questions online and I’ll ask them to our guests, so you can post them at KPBS.org/thesedays. So, Brad, has the shaking stopped for the moment?
JENNINGS: It has.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, tell us a little bit about what it was like yesterday at about 3:40 in the afternoon.
JENNINGS: You know, that’s an interesting question. It’s something that I won’t forget. You know, I grew up in this region and I’ve been through a lot of earthquakes in my life, but this was unlike anything that I have – had ever gone through. Personally, I was at home with my wife and our dogs, sitting on the couch, and it started differently than most earthquakes. It had a very different rumble to it, and soon it was shaking very violently. We, all five of us, my wife and I and our three dogs, got underneath the table, our dining room table, and we just watched things around us fall. The water in the swimming pool was splashing, you know, sloshing five feet high, and we had a lot of glass go down, a lot of things tipped over. A lot of damage but nothing severe. That it was – I will say it was quite frightening even for a veteran of these kinds of things.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Now you were – you are in El Centro. Your house is located near El Centro?
JENNINGS: Yeah, well, I’m in El Centro.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, and so while all this stuff was clanging and falling down, did you – you said the dogs were with you under the table?
JENNINGS: The dogs ran right under the table with us. We didn’t even have to coax them. They – And they’ve been pretty freaked out. It was a sleepless night for them.
CAVANAUGH: Now what kind of damage did El Centro actually sustain?
JENNINGS: It varies. A lot of broken windows, downtown there’s a lot of broken windows. There’s some in other businesses. We understand the Vons store here in town had a lot of things come off the shelves, a lot of damage there. The Walmart in Brawley is closed. It closed right after because of extensive damage inside. It sounds like Calexico got the worst of everything.
JENNINGS: There’s definitely some damage to buildings in downtown Calexico that are causing some concern. As a matter of fact, the City of Calexico has declared a state of emergency. And downtown is basically cordoned off unless you happen to be the owner of a business down there. And there could be some buildings that I don’t know if they’re going to make it or not, quite frankly. I guess we’ll kind of have to see as the next day or two unfolds. And also there was apparently some kind of damage done to the treatment plant in Calexico because the City is asking people to lower their water consumption to make sure they don’t overload…
JENNINGS: …the system right now. So we definitely have some issues to go through there.
CAVANAUGH: Now, when we were talking to the city manager of Mexicali…
CAVANAUGH: …yesterday, he was saying that there was some damage to their brick and mortar buildings. Is that the kind of damage that Calexico is also suffering to these older, unreinforced buildings?
JENNINGS: Exactly. Exactly. And we have photos on our website, ivpressonline.com, that show some of that damage.
CAVANAUGH: Now, how many – Do you have any numbers on how many people in Imperial Valley might have been injured?
JENNINGS: You know, as far as we know, we only know of one injury that would be considered serious and it was someone who was at a carwash and a sign fell and hit this person in the head, and they were actually Lifeflighted out of the area yesterday. I don’t have an update on this person or a name. But that was the one serious injury that we know of.
CAVANAUGH: And we – I just talked about people in San Diego kind of falling when they were running out of their houses and stuff like that. Did you hear of that kind of minor scrapes and bruises?
JENNINGS: Well, we’ve heard just personal stories about that a little bit, yes. Again, nothing major. I think we were very, very lucky. For as large as this earthquake was, and…
JENNINGS: …for as much, you know, damage to insides of homes and those kinds of things that it did, I think we were actually pretty lucky. But I think, again, it has also shown as much as we think we’re prepared in an earthquake area for earthquakes, we’re not prepared at all. And that’s definitely a conversation, I think, that we’re going to have to have locally.
CAVANAUGH: Yes. We are going to begin that conversation here in the next hour of These Days as well. Thank you, Brad.
JENNINGS: You’re welcome.
CAVANAUGH: Brad Jennings, I – and we’re not saying goodbye to you, Brad, not quite yet. I have a couple more questions. I’m speaking with Brad Jennings. He is editor of the Imperial Valley Press. And we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. So, Brad, I know that the injuries seemed to, in most cases, have been minor, the damage seems to have been controlled, but one of the real problems that you had in the Imperial Valley was loss of power.
JENNINGS: Yeah, we did. As a matter of fact, it’s ironic that the – it seems the last place in town that got power back was the newspaper. We didn’t get our power on here until after ten o’clock last night.
JENNINGS: Every power user in the Imperial Valley lost power except a couple of people who are connected to substations in the county north of us, but almost everybody else in the county lost power, so it was a huge power outage.
CAVANAUGH: So that only makes the situation worse and, I would imagine, more frightening for people when they can’t actually get the information that they need about what’s going on.
JENNINGS: Absolutely. It’s very difficult. And it’s difficult as a news organization. We had to set up at a reporter’s home north of town because she had power and internet access. So we called that ‘newsroom north’ and we had them up there posting stories to our website. Now, of course, people couldn’t really get to the website until their power and internet service came back but that started happening fairly quickly. I think actually the Imperial Irrigation District did a pretty good job of getting power back on after such a large event fairly quickly. Now, of course, it’s never as quick as everybody would like but I think generally it was pretty well done.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, Brad, you must’ve been hearing through your website and now since power has been restored people calling in to your newspaper, what kind of stories are you hearing from people? You related to us, I think really very well, the fact that this was – as scary as it was for us up here in San Diego, it was a real shaker for – in El Centro and Calexico. So what kind of stories are you hearing people tell you?
JENNINGS: You know, we’re hearing the same kinds of stories that you hear after a lot of these events. It was a big shaker for people so we’re hearing a lot of people say I’ve never felt anything like this, I was scared. But we have a reporter here who’s been with us just a few months from Michigan. He said, I thought I was going to die.
JENNINGS: So I think when you’re new to these things it can – it definitely shakes you up, but even if you’re a veteran of these kinds of things, people – this was definitely a frightening experience. People lost a lot of glassware, people lost a lot of things in their house. Things were tossed around quite a bit. So it was certainly a scary situation for people.
CAVANAUGH: Now, what kind of information are you looking to gather today for the Imperial Valley Press on this earthquake?
JENNINGS: We’re going to be doing lots of stuff. There’s a lot of things in Calexico we’re trying to catch up on. There’s a lot of information from Mexicali. Oop, going through a tremor right now. Sorry.
JENNINGS: They always catch me off guard. We – we have…
CAVANAUGH: Now, how many…
JENNINGS: I’m sorry. Real quick, Maureen…
JENNINGS: We have damage to roadways here. You know, Interstate 8 still has some damage and they have a lane closed going west out of here.
JENNINGS: The Port of Entry in downtown Calexico was closed because of damage and they’re routing everybody to the east port. So there are a number of things here that we need to talk about. People were displaced. We just talked to the Salvation Army. They had about 40 people in there last night. There’s still five families there right now that don’t have a place to go. So we’re going to definitely be telling those stories.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I – and I imagine that you have to go now, Brad, is that right?
JENNINGS: I – I’m sorry. I do.
JENNINGS: We’re just kind of running around like crazy here.
CAVANAUGH: That’s fine. I really do appreciate your taking the time out. Brad Jennings, editor of the Imperial Valley Press, thank you so much.
JENNINGS: You’re welcome, thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And we are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Brad Jennings just feeling an aftershock in El Centro. I thought we had an aftershock here in San Diego. I saw my microphone moving a little bit but I’m not quite sure about that. Let’s take a call from Velma. She’s calling us from Holtville. Good morning, Velma, and welcome to These Days.
VELMA (Caller, Holtville): Hi, good morning.
VELMA: I’m just letting you guys know that it was kind of weird yesterday. El Centro didn’t have any electricity.
VELMA: And I told my husband, you need to go gas up your car, I said. And he went to Holtville. We’re about 13 miles to the east of El Centro. And everybody seemed to be at the two gas stations there last night. It was so funny. I was little when we had our major one and we were in Mexicali in the show and I remember back then that we all panicked and we all ran out and they trampled all over my dad because he was disabled at the time. And it just reminds me of when I was little and it was so funny trying to save my crockpots.
CAVANAUGH: So have…
VELMA: We have – we had a blast.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, have you been feeling a lot of aftershocks where you are?
VELMA: Yes, we have. We’ve had throughout the Banning, Ocotillo – Ocotillo is getting the major – not big ones but they’re the most frequent, is in Ocotillo, which is about 20 miles to the west of El Centro. And a lot of aftershocks. This last one that I felt around four o’clock…
CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. Right.
VELMA: It was about a five-pointer, 5.5. So, yes, we’ve been feeling lots of them.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much, Velma. Thank you for calling in. And I want to remind everyone that our number is 1-888-895-5727. We’re going to be taking your calls about earthquakes, what you felt and how yesterday’s earthquakes and the ramifications, the aftershocks, have been affecting you, as well as earthquake preparedness. And we’re going to be talking about it for the full two hours of These Days. We’re also taking your comments online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Right now, let’s go to another guest. I’d like to welcome Kim Bak Olsen. He’s a seismologist and professor in Geological Sciences Department at SDSU. And, Professor Olsen, welcome back. Thanks for being here today.
KIM BAK OLSEN (Seismologist, Professor, Geological Sciences Department, San Diego State University): Thanks for having me, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: We just heard from Brad Jennings of the Imperial Valley Press while he was on the phone with us, it wasn’t much longer than 10 minutes, he reported two aftershocks that he felt. One was significant enough that he held onto the desk. Tell us about these aftershocks and how strong they are and how long we can expect to feel them.
OLSEN: Well, the aftershocks are going to be happening for a while. People better get used to it at this point. They’re going to be occurring typically with a frequency that decreases exponentially with time, so very quickly the magnitude of the earthquake’s aftershocks are going to decline so the chance of magnitudes fours and fives, as we’ve been seeing the last couple of days and, in fact, we’ve been – I counted about six magnitude fives and…
OLSEN: …I think 21 magnitude fours since the earthquake yesterday afternoon. And the number of fours and fives are going to decrease very quickly so – but we’re going to be seeing earthquakes for years to come. As a matter of fact, this earthquake resembles a lot the 1992 Landers earthquake out in the Mojave Desert. It’s about the same magnitude, 7.2, 7.3, about 80 kilometers rupture, and so on. And we still see aftershocks, what, some 19, 17 years ago from – since the Landers earthquake happened. So this is going to go on for a while.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. Now, Professor Olsen, what’s the latest information you can tell us about the size and type of earthquake that we had yesterday afternoon, the big one, the 7.2 one.
OLSEN: Well, the 7.2 earthquake occurred on – supposedly on a fault that we’re not absolutely sure yet which fault it is, if it happened on an existing fault, it – The aftershocks tend to collocate with the Laguna Salada fault, which has shown fairly large earthquakes. It has shown – in 1892, there was most likely an earthquake bigger than 7.2 and in 1915, 1934, significant earthquakes around magnitude 7 or so. So that’s what it looks like at this point, it might’ve occurred on that fault but we need to do some mapping to see if there’s any surface breakage of the fault in that area to be absolutely sure. But the earthquake seemed to have started south of the border, maybe 80 kilometers south and then ruptured up toward Southern California and possibly even broke the fault into Southern California. So that’s a very interesting scenario because that has – seems to have generated quite an activity of earthquakes in Southern California…
OLSEN: …and basically not aftershocks but what we call triggered earthquakes, earthquakes that have been initiated by the 7.2 because of increases in stresses and strains in the crust.
CAVANAUGH: Now, does the San Andreas fault actually enter into Mexico in that area as well?
OLSEN: Yes and no. The San Andreas fault is well known and coherent all the way down to the Salton Sea, it’s basically to the bottom of reaches of…
CAVANAUGH: Okay, uh-huh.
OLSEN: …the Salton Sea. From south on from the Salton Sea, it kind of turns into this complex pattern of sub-parallel faults that – that it’s not one coherent fault line like it is further north. So it’s still considered the southern extension of the San Andreas but it’s not – it becomes a lot more complex in terms of the fault surfaces.
CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. My guest right now is Professor Kim Bak Olsen, who’s a seismologist and professor of geology at SDSU. And let’s take a call right now. Let’s hear from Miriam in Carlsbad. Good morning, Miriam, and welcome to These Days.
MIRIAM (Caller, Carlsbad): Oh, good morning. I just want to tell you this is such a strange feeling. We were in a park in Mission Bay and I’ve been in many, many earthquakes, too, but this was the strangest one because there was several thousand people there at a community gathering for Iranian new year, and when this happened, all of a sudden, everybody gasped. It was just so strange to watch everybody at the same time have the same feeling and watch the ground move. We could visibly see the ground move. Even my niece called and she felt it while driving. I had just never seen anything like it, and it was so long. It felt like it just was not going to stop. It was just very strange feeling.
MIRIAM: And so many of us experienced it at the same time in the same place. It was even more strange for me, so I thought to share it.
CAVANAUGH: I do appreciate it. Thank you for sharing that. And I’m wondering, you know, I did speak with you when we had our special broadcast last night, Professor Olsen, but I don’t think I asked you where you were when the quake hit. How did you experience this earthquake?
OLSEN: I was actually sitting at my desk and I kind of, you know, started to – feeling the shaking and I noticed the kind of the lamps and different items moving slightly, so, yeah, I shouted earthquake, and my wife was just finishing dinner preparations at that point and she got a little scared but it was – Yeah, it was interesting – very interesting earthquake.
CAVANAUGH: Now as a geology professor and seismologist, when you experience an earthquake like that, do you – does it automatically go through your mind what kind of an earthquake it feels like, where it feels like it’s coming from?
OLSEN: It does, yes. Specifically, this 7.2 earthquake felt a lot like long, rolling kind of motions…
OLSEN: …rather than the jolty, high-frequency motion. And the long, rolling, kind of rollercoaster motion is an indication that the earthquake is some ways away from where you actually feel the earthquake. So I was guessing that we were probably a couple hundred kilometers away from the fault. I didn’t know if it came from – I mean, likely sources would either be north, up in the L.A. area…
OLSEN: …or south in northern Mexico. But these long, rolling motions are typically an indication of what’s called surface waves, which are waves that – seismic waves that travel along the surface and attenuate a lot slower than other kind of waves. And for that reason, people will feel them over a lot longer distance.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Excuse me, we are taking your phone calls at 1-888-895-5727. Fred’s calling us from Coronado. Good morning, Fred. Welcome to These Days.
FRED (Caller, Coronado): Good morning. I was listening to your guest from the Imperial Valley newspaper…
FRED: …talk about his dogs. My wife and I noticed very unusual behavior, not consistent with their normal behavior, by our two cats for about 20 hours before the event.
FRED: And they both manifested different behaviors but different from their normal behavior. And I was wondering if there’s been any studies on animal sensitivity for predictability and maybe some of your listeners could address that or have similar – have seen similar circumstances.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that question, Fred. That’s very interesting. If anybody out there knows of any studies done on whether or not animals really do know whether earthquakes are coming, you can please give us a call, 1-888-895-5727 or post online at KPBS.org/thesedays. And, Professor Olsen, I’m really not going to ask you this question – I don’t know if, indeed, you have done any studies on that but we got a call yesterday from someone in Imperial Valley who said that the birds were acting funny as well. Do you hear anecdotally a lot of stories like that?
OLSEN: Yeah, we hear stories, a lot of stories like that. And that has, indeed, been a lot of studies and reports on animal behavior, animals being sensitive to some kind of changes just before an earthquake. Whether or not it’s changes, very small earthquakes that humans can’t feel, whether it’s changes in some other field that we don’t know about, a lot of these studies have been going on in China. The Chinese seismologists have been very notorious for promoting animal behavior as kind of a predictor of earthquakes but the bottom line is that it’s not a consistent indicator. Sometimes we get reports, in other earthquakes there’s just really note much that can be felt by animals. So earthquakes can be very different creatures so in some cases there might be some fields or some changes of very small earthquakes before the bigger earthquake and, yes, animals might be able to pick up on that but in other cases, that’s just nothing to…
OLSEN: …that they can pick up on.
CAVANAUGH: Now Professor Olsen, a lot of people have also – this is also kind of anecdotal information, have commented on the fact that San Diego hasn’t – or this region, hasn’t experienced a sort of major, big earthquake in a while and perhaps we were due for one. Is that the way seismologists think? Or is that just sort of like a common wisdom kind of an idea?
OLSEN: Oh, that’s definitely the way most seismologists think in terms of when the next big earthquake is going to happen. For a lot of the earthquake forecasts that we’re now moving into making, probabilistic forecasts for earthquake and on different faults basically work on – they’re based on the time before the last big earthquake. So the longer time it goes since the last earthquake, the higher the probability will be for a large earthquake on that fault. So, for example, we can say in Southern California, let’s say, south of the Bay Area, there’s a 37% chance of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake within the next 30 years. And that’s basically based on how many 7.5 earthquakes we have had in recent times.
CAVANAUGH: Professor Olsen, we have to take a short break. Can you stay with us for a few minutes longer?
CAVANAUGH: Okay, and we are continuing our conversation about earthquakes and continuing taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. And Kim Bak Olsen is my guest, for at least for a couple more questions. He’s a seismologist and professor of geology at the Geology Department at SDSU. Professor Olsen, I don’t want to leave this without asking you the kind of information that you’re looking forward to gathering today and, I suppose, in the days to come.
OLSEN: Yes, there’s a lot of information we can get out of this earthquake, I believe, and a lot we can learn out of it. I think the first order of business would be to try and find a surface rupture, to go out and look in the area where the aftershocks happen to see if we can find actually visual confirmation of where the fault, the positive fault is located. We might go out and record some of the aftershocks that are going to be going on for a while. This would be a good chance to record some high resolution seismic events on the order of a magnitude 4 or so. And then we are going to – this is a very good opportunity to do some tests of our earthquake modeling and prediction, basically try to model this earthquake on the computer using all the information we have available and try to see if we can replicate all these interesting information. In particular what we find interesting is the large number of earthquakes that seem to be triggered in Southern California along faults, along the Elsinore, the San Jacinto fault in Southern California, which basically lit up really bright in the hours right after the 7.2 and seemed to have been triggered by the increases in stresses from this earthquake and this increased activity seemed to be much larger into Southern California rather than south of the earthquake into Mexico, which indicates that there’s what we call directivity. The earthquake has basically directed most of its energy from starting from the southern part of the fault and rupturing into Southern California and then, by that, building up energy in this direction or energy kind of being in the line of fire of the earthquake in Southern California. And for that reason, it looks like it has increased the activity more north of the fault rather than south of the fault, so by modeling these kind of phenomena that we observe like this is going to help a lot in the future in trying to understand why these earthquakes occur and ultimately help us learn how to predict earthquakes, which is one of the big remaining goals of seismology.
CAVANAUGH: Professor Olsen, thanks so much for talking with us today. It sounds like you’re going to be busy for a long time.
OLSEN: Yes, this is a very exciting earthquake.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. I’ve been speaking with Kim Bak Olsen. He’s seismologist and professor in Geological Sciences Department at San Diego State University. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You know, it seems like every year we have Earthquake Preparedness Month. We have drills, we’re given pamphlets and told to get ready but when yesterday’s earthquake went on just a little longer and was just a little stronger than we’re used to, some thoughts started to spring to mind, like, what the heck am I supposed to do? Many people ran outside or just sat frozen in their seats; both of them not really a good idea according to earthquake safety officials. And we’ll be taking your calls about what you wish you had known yesterday about earthquake readiness. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, or you can post your comments online at KPBS.org/thesedays. I’d like to welcome Ron Lane. He’s director of the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services. Ron, welcome, and thank you for coming on These Days this morning.
RON LANE (Director, San Diego County Office of Emergency Services): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Now I’m wondering, just to get an update, we have been reporting for yesterday and today minimal damage in San Diego. How would you characterize what – the reports that have come into your office?
LANE: I agree, very minimal. Just a handful of small problems. We’ve had a few water main breaks and a few windows broken. We obviously had a couple of buildings that had some initial concerns about structural damage or whatever that were evacuated. But at this point all our fire and law enforcement are advising that everything is back to normal.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, Ron, are you surprised that San Diego had such a relatively – relatively no damage from this earthquake?
LANE: Well, not really because we’ve been planning for the San Andreas fault, which is way to our east by the Salton Sea, for quite a while in playing on a scenario of a 7.8 earthquake on that fault just like happened in 1857. And even under those scenarios of a 7.8 on the San Andreas, San Diego comes across very – with very minimal damage and it’s due to our essentially distance from these major fault lines. The one that concerns us, and I’m sure you’ve talked about quite a bit, is the Rose Canyon fault that goes along I-5. That would be a different story if we had the 7.2 earthquake there as opposed to 100 miles away.
CAVANAUGH: We are going to be speaking with Ron Lane, director of San Diego County Office of Emergency Services, about getting ready for an earthquake and what you didn’t know yesterday that you wish you had known. Right now, Vicente Calderon is on the line with us. We’ve been trying to reach him for most of the morning. He’s editor of the tijuanapress.com, and he’s in Mexicali and is going to speak to us about what the situation is there. And, Vicente, thank you for calling.
VICENTE CALDERON (Editor, tijuanapress.com): Good morning. Obviously, this is part of the problems, that I’m still feeling the residents of Mexicali because the connections, the communications are not up to speed, as they would like to. Well, what we know so far is that, according to the local state authorities, there is two people directly linked that died as a consequence of the earthquake. There’s two other reports of people who had either heart attacks or one that came out running and unfortunately got – was run over, and that information was given to me from the Citizen Protection Unit from the state level here in Mexicali. Things are, little by little, going back to norm – coming back to normal.
CALDERON: There’s more electricity now even though there’s still a lot of people that is not – doesn’t have power or doesn’t have the proper or the normal water supply. The authorities, the crews are working in differently locations. They are still gathering information. You have to imagine that Mexicali’s a very spread out city and that’s according to the authorities that help them, it’s a very flat area and there’s not too many buildings, high buildings, here in Mexicali.
CALDERON: So they’re talking about 75 people who were injured. They consider those are not very serious injuries. And they are still gathering information on the situation today – this morning.
CAVANAUGH: And, Vicente, what have you been able to learn about the rest of that larger area of Baja that was affected by this earthquake? Are any reports coming in from other areas?
CALDERON: Well, the searchers are not giving much information in that sense because they are not – so far they haven’t been able to confirm or check many of those reports. They are going to the rural areas mainly with -- because that’s where they were – where the earthquake was mostly felt. In the city, there’s some damage and the most serious damage is done to a new parking structure for the state government and that thing just practically collapsed on the inside. The walls are still there but many of the central part just came down. So, fortunately, nobody was there since…
CALDERON: …again, since this is a new facility, has not even been delivered to the local authorities, so was not in use and that was great in the sense of can you imagine a three – at three o’clock in the afternoon in Mexicali, which is the time that we go out to lunch more or less…
CALDERON: …when they are – when we are thinking about people working in the offices. That will be – would have been packed. And, fortunately, nobody was there and nobody was injured in that incident.
CAVANAUGH: We heard yesterday, Vicente, that the downtown Mexicali was closed because of structural damage. Is it still closed?
CALDERON: No, people is moving around and they’re still checking many of the buildings. You can see that there’s still some glasses (sic) on the sidewalk, there’s some debris also in the streets, and many people are staying outside their building or their offices because they’re – we are still feeling several aftershocks. We felt a very strong aftershock about 4:30 this morning and that just makes the people react. Last night when we were here, when we got here we saw several people sleeping on the park and several people sleeping on their cars outside their homes because they are afraid to go back to their houses.
CAVANAUGH: Now I understand that Mexicali Hospital set up an emergency room outside in a tent. Was that because they were also concerned about aftershocks?
CALDERON: They say that that’s the reason, that they don’t think there is very much structural damage to the building but actually all of the major hospitals here set up a tent where they are treating some of the patients and some of those are still working inside but not in the higher levels, just on the ground level, just to give more safety and tranquility to the patients. And actually a baby was delivered about an hour ago in one of these hospitals that are working in these conditions.
CAVANAUGH: Now has power been restored to Mexicali?
CALDERON: The last report that I heard from the Field Protection Unit told me that there’s still – a little bit more than half the people are still are without power.
CAVANAUGH: I see. And, as you say, the cell phone service is not doing too well either.
CALDERON: Well, it comes and goes. Not that the phone service was always too reliable but now we’re having more difficulty.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Vicente, I know that you have to leave us. I want to know, though, what is it that you’re going to be covering today? Where are you going to be going? What do you want to find out?
CALDERON: Well, one very important thing is just to wait for those reports to be checked on the outskirts of the rural areas to see if there’s more damage of what the people is – the authorities are telling us right now. It’s very amazing for me to see that the city’s just basically going back to normal. Still, people is afraid but you don’t see – I mean, considering there was a 7.2 earthquake, the structural damage doesn’t seem to be there and that’s very good news. So I’m going to be checking just to see how – the truth of how really or apparent is that the damage in general it’s relatively minor.
CAVANAUGH: Vicente, I’m so happy we got to speak with you this morning. Thank you.
CALDERON: Thank you very much.
CAVANAUGH: Vicente Calderon is editor of tijuanapress.com, and he was reporting from Mexicali. And, as I say, we’re taking your calls about earthquake preparedness, 1-888-895-5727. Ron Lane, Director of San Diego County Office of Emergency Services, was good enough to stand by with us while we took that report from Vicente Calderon. And it sounds as if things are worse than in San Diego but not as bad as they could be in Mexicali. Ron.
LANE: Yes, and that’s fortunate, and that’s a good sign. Obviously, you know, that we’re hopeful but we hope that the San Diegans and your listeners kind of took yesterday as a practice…
LANE: …and identified what they – whether they were prepared or not and then take the necessary actions now so that they are prepared for – when we do have the real one here.
CAVANAUGH: Carol is calling us from Rancho Penasquitos. Good morning, Carol, and welcome to These Days.
CAROL (Caller, Rancho Penasquitos): Thank you. I heard Brad Jennings say everybody says when they hear – when they feel an earthquake, which is they all run and jump under their table. But I read an article that says that that’s not what you want to do, that they don’t find survivors of big earthquakes under tables nor do they find them in doorways. And I read further that the best place to take cover in an earthquake is like a – like if you’re sitting on your couch, fall in front of your couch and lay along parallel to it, right next to it on the floor because when things fall down they tend to create what they call some kind of a triangle, which is where they find survivors. And I think we need an update on that.
CAVANAUGH: Great. Great question, Carol. So, Ron, can you help us out with this doorframe and table thing?
LANE: Sure. Yeah, there is a concept of the Triangle of Life that’s out there but that’s generally been discredited and it’s not advised in the United States. That’s a strategy that does – that may have some merit if you’re in a third world country where the buildings you’re in are not built to code and the major concern is that the roofs are going to fall down on you. In that case, obviously, if you’re under a table, whatever, you don’t have a ton of protection. But in the United States and certainly in San Diego where 99% of our buildings are built to code, the expectation – the proper thing to do is to go under the table. And your major concern is not for the roof coming down on you but rather bookcases and things like that falling on you.
CAVANAUGH: Ron, you know, you must’ve heard some eyewitness testimony yesterday from people who called this station and other radio stations about the amount of people who ran out of their houses, ran out of restaurants, ran out of dormitories, ran out of places of gathering, even places of worship yesterday when the earthquake struck. Now I’m wondering how you feel about that.
LANE: Well, the experts say the best strategy is to stay where you are, in the room you’re in, and get under something heavy to protect you from falling objects. So if you’re in bed, stay in bed. Put a pillow over your head. Just watch out for those things. A lot of people get injured as they try to run out of a building as people felt yesterday when it’s shaking tremendously. Broken glass everywhere. A lot of people in Northridge got hurt by – with cuts on their feet and everything else as they were trying to leave buildings. So, generally, unless you’re in a building where it’s not structurally sound, which very few, your best bet is to stay where you are under a table in the room you’re in.
CAVANAUGH: And talk to us a little bit about how structurally sound the buildings are here in San Diego. I got a call yesterday from a woman who was attending a show in an old theatre in North Park but this theatre had been rebuilt and, you know, fitted for earthquakes and yet some people were very nervous because it was an older building. How many buildings do we have in San Diego that are really at risk when it comes to a powerful earthquake?
LANE: Well, we have over 800,000 buildings in San Diego and about 1200 are unreinforced masonry, which are…
LANE: …the buildings that we’re concerned about. However, a good share of those unreinforced masonry are historic buildings that have been retrofitted. So there’s very few, certainly any – very few large buildings in San Diego out of the 850,000 or so buildings that are not either built to current code or retrofitted.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Ron Lane. He’s director of the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services. We’re taking your calls and comments at 1-888-895-5727 or online at KPBS.org/thesedays. Pam is calling us from Emerald Hills. Good morning, Pam. Welcome to These Days. Oh, could you turn down your radio? Pam, are you there?
PAM (Caller, Emerald Hills): Okay.
CAVANAUGH: Hi, Pam.
PAM: How are you?
CAVANAUGH: Good. Thank you.
PAM: Thanks for taking my call.
CAVANAUGH: And what would you like to know?
PAM: I would like to know how should parents prepare their children who may be outside playing near the house when something like this happens? Because I was at a friend’s house and her son was outside and she went into a panic mode…
PAM: …and started screaming and hollering and the child did nothing. He thought it was okay, that it was just – maybe somebody trying to break in because the fence was moving.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I…
PAM: So how should child – how should parents prepare their children to respond to them?
CAVANAUGH: Pam, thank you for the question. I think that’s a great question. Ron, any advice for parents?
LANE: Yeah, well, actually outside is – if you’re outside at the time the earthquake happens, that’s probably the best place to be. What you’re, again, concerned about is things falling down, so if you’re near power lines or big trees or whatever, try to get out in the open. The best place to be in an earthquake is out in an open field.
CAVANAUGH: An open field, but we don’t have an awful lot of those around.
LANE: No, but someplace where you’re not going to have something fall over on you, that is definitely a safe place to be. And the same as you’re driving a car, if you feel the large earthquake, to pull over so that you’re not either under an overpass or on a bridge that might have problems and try to avoid, again, power lines along the road.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s say, you know, kids are outside, they’re just playing on a normal street, there are power lines around and, you know, there are awnings and there are things kind of overhead. Is it a good idea to call those kids in and to hunker down somewhere?
LANE: Yeah, again, it – the best place to be is under something so to the extent that you can get under a picnic table or something outside that’s safe, inside a car, for example, where you’re protected from things that are falling, again, if that’s your concern, that is the right thing to do.
CAVANAUGH: Sarah is calling us from El Centro. Good morning, Sarah, and welcome to These Days.
SARAH (Caller, El Centro): Thank you. Actually what I was hoping to do with your program was, as a platform to reach people at the Imperial Irrigation District because I thought the preparedness was abysmal for consumers. I was visiting the Imperial Valley from Yuma with my mother, much older than I – no, well, older than I am, and she, when I got her – The earthquake went off and because we’ve been through so many of them in Imperial County, we just waited. We knew that the IID eventually would get things fixed up. So after about two hours, I guess, maybe even shorter than that, but as darkness fell, we realized that everybody around us had light, had electricity. We didn’t.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, uh-huh.
SARAH: There were five houses right there, all older houses, we had no electricity so at that point, you know, I started calling the Imperial Irrigation District. There is one listing, I think, an 800 number, and I called that. I was told that this line was going to be answered Monday through Friday…
SARAH: …from eight to five, something along those hours. And then I was put on hold, and, you know, and I – I’m looking at the damage all around us and I have absolutely no idea if anybody’s ever going to answer that phone because the message says Monday through Friday.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Sarah, thank you for that call and, Ron, I – you’re with San Diego County so you can’t address anything that goes on in Imperial Valley, I know that, but how – what was the difficulty in having this happen on a weekend, especially an Easter Sunday? Did that add to the difficulties that people might’ve had in getting in touch with authorities?
LANE: Well, you know, sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes it’s actually better that the disasters happen on weekends based on where the population is and everything else. In this particular case, I think the caller brings up a good point, is that your listeners need to be – understand that in a major earthquake, it’s very unlikely they’re going to continue to have power, communications or phone lines, cell phones and everything are not going to be available. So what we encourage citizens to do is to have a plan so that they – a communication plan with their family members so for those who aren’t at home they know what you’re going to do and also to make sure you have a portable radio or a radio in your car because our primary means of reaching the public during a disaster like this is going to be through the radio and be able to communicate whether to evacuate or stay in place or how long power’s going to be out. All that information will be coming through a radio.
CAVANAUGH: Now we hear the advice that you’ve given us right now over and over again as the years go by about how to – we’re supposed to be self-sufficient after an earthquake, we’re supposed to prepare ourselves and so forth. But I think that a lot of people had a rude awakening yesterday. What are you hearing, Ron?
LANE: Yeah, I think so. I think that the biggest thing is most people have been used to our little 4.0 and 5.0 earthquakes with a 7-second jolt and say that’s not so bad. When they actually go through an earthquake that’s 30, 40, 60 seconds they recognize that they’re not as prepared as they thought they were. And then some of the things that they wish they had had, like for example knew where to turn off their natural gas line in case they smell gas, those types of things, are all things that can make a big difference if you do a little preparation before the event.
CAVANAUGH: That’s exactly what I was thinking about yesterday. And it was also the first time that I’d experienced an earthquake in the place that I’m living now and I’m very happy to say no cracks, no problems, so I suppose, you know, that kind of experience can really sort of inform the next time something like this happens.
LANE: Right, and you’re absolutely right on the 72 hours to the extent we ask everybody to be self-sufficient for 72 hours with water, food, medicine, everything that you would need. And it’s not that we won’t be there but the fact is in a major disaster, if you’re self-prepared, then you don’t have to worry about where am I going to get water or whatever. We’re going to do everything we can but in a community of 3 million people, you know, there could be shortages for a short period of time, so to the extent that you’ve taken care of your family and are prepared, that goes a long way to helping the overall resiliency of the community and the ability of the community to get back on its feet.
CAVANAUGH: We have to take a break for the top of the hour and Ron Lane is going to stay with us a little bit longer, and we really do appreciate that. We’ll continue to take your phone calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.