Wed, Dec 24, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Two die in big California earthquake

'MODEST' DAMAGE The 6.5-magnitude earthquake was centered near San Simeon, crushing two female dress-shop employees in a 19th-century building

REUTERS , PASO ROBLES, CALIFORNIA

Paso Robles police officer Joe Ramirez walks away from the remains of a two-story building following the earthquake in Paso Robles, California, on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

Rescue workers ended their search for survivors late on Monday after a 6.5-magnitude earthquake killed two women while they worked in this central California town. The quake shook homes and skyscrapers from San Francisco south to Los Angeles.

Two women were crushed when the roof and second floor of the landmark 19th-century clock tower building collapsed, officials said. The women were identified as Jennifer Myrick, 19, and Marilyn Zafuto, 55.

A three-hour search of the wreckage of the building by a Ventura County urban-rescue team with a dog produced no results.

"We searched any possible place that victims could be. We're very comfortable and confident that nobody else is inside," said Ventura County Fire Department Battalion Chief Scott Hall.

Police cordoned off five square blocks of historic Paso Robles and planned to spend the night patrolling to prevent looting, police spokesman Sergeant Bob Adams said.

The temblor, called the San Simeon earthquake after the coastal town nearest its epicenter, struck at 11:16am on Monday, hitting hardest in this town known for its sulfur springs and mud baths.

Power was cut to some 75,000 homes and businesses and the quake shook the historic Hearst Castle, a major California tourist attraction. It caused no damage there or at a nearby nuclear power plant.

Beyond this San Luis Obispo County town, about 298km north of Los Angeles and 48km from the epicenter, damage from the quake was "modest," officials said.

At least 82 commercial buildings in the town were damaged, many of them in a historic downtown area dating to the 1890s, said Doug Monn, the town's top building official.

Nick Sherwin, the owner of Pan Jewelers, one of the stores in the clock tower building, said when the quake struck he heard "a rumble and a roar" and yelled to people in his shop to get out.

First reports said three people were killed but officials said the two women, both believed to be employees of a dress shop in the building, were the only fatalities. More than 45 others in the region were injured, some with broken bones and lacerations.

The US Geological Survey said initial damage reports could be measured in the millions of dollars. By contrast, the Northridge earthquake of 1994 in the Los Angeles area, which measured 6.7, caused more than US$40 billion in damage and ranks as one of the most expensive natural disasters in US history. In 1999, a 7.1 quake was reported in the Southern California desert.

Despite the loss of electric power, the state's power grid operator said there were no reports of damage to high-voltage lines and no damage to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power generator. The temblor was felt in the plant's control room.

The epicenter of Monday's quake was near San Simeon, the home of Hearst Castle, the lavish mansion built by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the US Geological Survey said.

The castle was evacuated but it sustained no apparent structural damage, officials said.

The quake's depth along the San Simeon fault, part of the state's San Andreas fault system, was measured at 8km. It was followed by dozens of aftershocks.

The US Geological Survey said the quake would produce hundreds of aftershocks over the next days, weeks and even years but there was only a five to 10 percent risk that any of the aftershocks would be bigger than the initial quake.

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