Aftershocks Rattle California, Mexico

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Aftershocks continue from Sunday's 7.2 magnitude earthquake in northern Mexico. Substantial damage and at least two deaths are reported in the Baja city of Mexicali. On the California side of the border, the old downtown section of Calexico has been cordoned off because so many storefronts have been damaged and are red-tagged as unsafe.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: .TEXT: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

It's been a nervous day in Southern California and northern Mexico; more than 100 aftershocks have followed the powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked three states late Sunday afternoon.

The epicenter was near the border city of Mexicali, Mexico. There, several buildings were damaged and at least two people were killed.

NPR's Mandalit Del Barco is in Mexicali, and she joins us now with the latest.

Mandalit, you've had a chance to look around a bit. How bad do things look there?

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Well, you know, there's much more damage in the small farming communities outside of the city where the epicenter was in the valleys south of here. But here in Mexicali, from what I can see, there are some buildings with blown out windows and fallen plaster and bricks, there are cracks in the wall.

Some power lines are down and merchandise in some of the stores are thrown around. The parking lot near the Mexicali city hall collapsed, but it had been under construction, so no cars or people were damaged inside.

But, you know, I visited the general hospital which had been evacuated. Doctors are triaging the most critical patients under some outdoor tents. One of the hospital buildings had been badly damaged, and doctors were sending some people away. In fact, I met one woman who is pregnant and her baby is due today, and they told her to go home and not come back until her contractions are even stronger.

And many of the highways outside Mexicali have cracks as well.

NORRIS: Mexicali is a city of about 750,000 people. How are folks there coping? Are they worried about aftershocks?

DEL BARCO: Oh, sure. Yeah, they're absolutely worried about aftershocks. But, you know, traffic is moving and people are getting around. And if you know Mexico, you'll understand why it's important to know that Sanborn, the famous department store and restaurant chain, is open for business. But city government buildings are not open, neither are schools.

But there is electricity and water in most of Mexicali. In fact, one official told me that Mexicali usually sells electricity to the U.S., and it had to get it back when the electricity got knocked off for a few hours after the quake.

Some streets are closed where the ground split open. The earthquake literally ripped pavement in half. The airport is open; runways are not damaged. And phone service, for the most part, is back.

NORRIS: Mandalit, help us understand something. This earthquake was just as powerful as the one that hit Haiti, but the results here are very, very different.

You've covered both of these earthquakes so help us understand how the aftermath in these two places compare and why the damage was so much less in this case.

DEL BARCO: Well, you know, this is absolutely nothing like what I saw in Haiti where the entire city of Port-au-Prince was reduced to rubble. And there were a few differences - reasons for that difference.

First, the epicenter was 20 miles south of Mexicali, even though the wave-like movements could be felt as far as Santa Barbara and Las Vegas. I felt it in Los Angeles. It was shallow but it was not as devastating as it was in Haiti.

And second of all, the buildings have been built much more to code. They are much, much stronger than in Port-au-Prince.

You know, I spoke to Margarita Mercado, the mayor's press secretary about this.

Ms. MARGARITA MERCADO (Press Secretary, Mayor of Mexicali): The damages weren't as bad. Buildings here are built very strong, and houses and buildings didn't collapse. We live in a region that's prone to earthquake so the buildings are built to support that. This, unfortunately, was the biggest we've had in 40 years or so.

DEL BARCO: You know, they've had other earthquakes but, as she said, they weren't as bad and a lot of buildings have been rebuilt more safely than before.

NORRIS: Just one last quick question. On your way to Mexicali, you passed through California border towns. Quickly, what was the damage like there?

DEL BARCO: Well, in Calexico, just on the other side of the border, it's been declared a state of emergency. I visited the old business district there, it has storefronts dating back to the 1920s, a lot of those buildings have been red tagged as unsafe; people are not allowed to go in. And you have to know that this is an area where people cross the border from Mexico every day to shop, to work, to go to school.

A lot of businesses in Calexico count on the Mexican nationals for their business. But right now, the border crossing into downtown is closed for pedestrians. There's a long line of cars trying to cross the border.

But, you know, the earthquake did not stop at the border fence.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Mandalit Del Barco speaking to us from Mexicali.

Mandalit, thank you very much.

DEL BARCO: Thank you.

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