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Border & Immigration

Earthquake Recovery On Both Sides Of The Border

Earthquake Recovery On Both Sides Of The Border

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Sunday's 7.2 earthquake in Baja California shook San Diego, but created destruction in the neighboring border cities of Mexicali and Calexico. Recovery efforts continue. Vicente Calderón, editor of and Amy Isackson, KPBS border reporter are covering those efforts. Vicente, now that some time has passed since the earthquake, what can you tell us about the damage that was done to Mexicali and the surrounding towns?

VICENTE CALDERÓN ( The area most affected is the communities in the Mexicali Valley. The epicenter was about 30 kilometers south of the city itself, and those are the areas that were more affected. People lost their homes. People are still without water in many of these communities, and without electricity. And their conditions right now are very difficult because water is coming out of the earth and they are very afraid. Even when there is, especially, experts are telling them that this is not something to worry about. And also, fear is the main problem for them because they are living outside their houses by the side of the roads. Or, there's about 33,000 people living in different – 25,000 people living in different shelters opened by the government.

PENNER: What about the U.S. side, Calexico and El Centro? How are they recovering?

AMY ISACKSON (KPBS News): People are also still scared, and even more so because of yesterday’s aftershock. The earth keeps moving. The physical problems – there are serious physical problems with the infrastructure. More in Calexico, but also damage in El Centro. There're 3,700 people in the Valley who apparently have lost work because of the earthquake. The water supply in Calexico has been cut in half because of damage to water tanks. There's a massive sewage spill into the new river in Calexico because one of the pipes broke open. A few schools may have to be closed. And the governor of California has declared a state of emergency there; he pledged more help there yesterday. And they estimate that the damages could run $100 million, and that’s very preliminary.

PENNER: What is the most immediate need in that area?

ISACKSON: I think that the most immediate need in Calexico is water. The supply has been cut in half by -- because one of the major tanks was damaged. And water supply is OK now, but once it starts to heat up the demand for water doubles and the supply, according to water officials, just is not there.

PENNER: Is that the same in Mexicali? Is water the most immediate need?

CALDERÓN: Bottled water, personal hygiene products, and also tents because many people don’t want to go back to their homes in the Valley area. Especially near the epicenter in Ejido Oaxaca, one of the poorest communities there. And also there's a lot of people displaced even to the neighboring state of Sonora. That’s the most immediate need.

PENNER: Amy said that the government is helping on the U.S. side of the border. How has the Mexican government responded?

CALDERÓN: It’s moving very quickly. The army is even helping with the recovery efforts and the public safety efforts. But there are some complaints. You have to keep in mind that this is election season in Baja California. We so we are seeing some new reports that the help has been conditioned for some of the people depending on their affiliation to political parties. So there are some complaints from the people.

PENNER: Complaints…

CALDERÓN: Of the help they are getting from the state government. Even though the federal and the state government are doing a big effort to help the people in the Valley.

PENNER: What about on the U.S. side? Are there complaints there too? Are the people satisfied with the kind of help that they're getting?

ISACKSON: The people were happy that Governor Schwarzenegger was there. Congressmen have been – congressmen and congresswomen -- have been there, and they're still preparing the documents that they need to, tabulating the damages in order to apply for money state and federal to fix things.

PENNER: What are we seeing on this screen now?

ISACKSON: This looks like downtown Calexico here. You can see that there were windows that were damaged. And this is in the historic downtown, where many of the buildings are older. And may of those buildings are still red-tagged and yesterday’s aftershock caused nine more buildings to be red-tagged in the downtown. The downtown was going to open today but it did not because there's too much damage.

PENNER: Well, we did speak to a business owner and lifelong resident of Calexico. Here’s what he had to say.

FRANCISCO RASHID (Calexico business owner): Most of it is it's shut down. Plaster came down; you have to look at some of the places - some of the fascia that's loose - so that is doesn't come down with some of the other many earthquakes that are happening right now. So, you know, just make sure that everything is up tight and that's about it. Some of the places are out of water. Some of the water lines broke. At my home, one of the water lines broke at the boiler. But things to repair, so it's OK. You have people calmed down, fix just whatever they have to fix. We're closed for inspection for 48 hours. This is the first time I've ever seen Calexico shut down because of some of the structural damage at some of the buildings. And safety-wise that's good. You know, take a look. I've never seen so many grocery stores lose so much merchandise. We've seen it before, but this time we saw quite a bit more. It was more - like I said - it was longer so it shook everything off the shelves.

ISACKSON: And 260 businesses just not in downtown but in Calexico remain closed. And this is going to have big implications for the Imperial Valley, where unemployment was already around twenty-six, twenty-seven percent. As we said, about three to four thousand workers are out of work because of the earthquake, because the businesses are closed. And the economic impact will be something to keep an eye on going forward.

PENNER: Well thank you very much Amy Isackson, Vicente Calderón.