Quake Knocks Out Power but Not Much Else in O.C.


The 7.0 earthquake that rattled Southern California early Saturday caused widespread power outages across Orange County, leaving 100,000 households temporarily without electricity but resulting in no apparent building damage or serious injuries.

Among the structures passing preliminary inspection was the Orange Crush freeway interchange, which includes some faulty welds that could fail during a catastrophic temblor. Workers examined the interchange within an hour of the 2:46 a.m. quake and found no concrete rubble that would suggest the welds had snapped, said Caltrans spokeswoman Rose Orem.

The agency plans to spend $1.8 million repairing the 3-year-old interchange at the confluence of the Santa Ana, Orange and Garden Grove freeways, and a local legislator said Saturday that the earthquake underscores the urgency of completing the project as soon as possible.


This “was a clear indicator of the seriousness and the urgency of retrofitting these bridges,” said Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Anaheim). “This earthquake was way out in the [Mojave] desert. We weren’t even close to the epicenter. So the question is, if that earthquake had been closer, would those bridges still be standing?”

Indeed, authorities attributed the temblor’s 120-mile distance from Orange County with preventing any significant property damage.

The quake’s biggest impact on the county came in the form of power outages, which occurred mostly in older North County communities with overhead lines such as Los Alamitos, Santa Ana, Anaheim and Fullerton.

About 100,000 households in Orange County lost power, according to utility officials, everything from momentary brownouts to daylong blackouts. By Saturday evening, more than 2,000 homes and businesses were still without power, most of them in Fullerton and Anaheim.

“This was an extremely strong earthquake, ground motion was tremendous and Orange County is a densely populated area,” said Steven Conroy, spokesman for Southern California Edison.

The earthquake destroyed about 500 power lines, with some snapping and others touching together and melting.


“When the earthquake starts, it makes the overhead wires swing and sometimes bang together, and they short-circuit,” said Dennis Urschel, Anaheim’s chief of utility systems operations.

The outages had widespread effect, terrifying some people.

In Anaheim, police officers rescued a woman from the ninth floor after a malfunction in the elevator inside a building at Broadway and Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim police Sgt. J. Moser said.

“She screamed and the officers came and opened the door for her and took her downstairs,” he said.

Hundreds of people called utility companies reporting flashes of blue lights across the sky after the quake. Some thought it was transformers exploding. But Conroy said the vast majority of the lights were simply wires touching.

Two hospitals in Los Alamitos and Anaheim lost power and immediately switched over the generators.

“It was a little hectic for a little bit there. But everybody was calm. The staff people, we all know what to do,” said Kay Koford, director of public relations and marketing for the 173-bed Los Alamitos Medical Center in Los Alamitos.


Dale Williamson, 70, manager for Kidnastics, a gymnastics school in Los Alamitos, said he arrived Saturday morning to find the alarm shrieking and the entire place in the dark.

One of the three 12-volt power cables nearby had snapped, and electric company workers had to cut the cable so that no one would get hurt, leaving Williamson’s business with no electricity. He was able to keep classes going by opening all the doors.

Along Florista Street, where the school is located, power lines sagged between the transformers and utility poles were shaken from their foundations, fire officials said.

“Some of the power poles were rattled rather badly,” said Dennis Shell, public information officer for the Orange County Fire Authority. “They were leaning and loose in the ground.”

As a precaution, the top floors of the Disneyland Hotel were evacuated, leaving dozens of sleepy tourists lingering outside while fire officials checked out the building.

Caltrans inspected all major freeway structures early Saturday and found no problems.

“Everything was clear,” Orem said. “We survived, and we did real well. Orange County’s freeways are safe.”


Police asked Caltrans engineers to double-check the Seal Beach Boulevard overpasses on the San Diego Freeway and crossing of Pacific Coast Highway and Camino Capistrano. They found no structural damage, Orem said.

For the next few days, Caltrans engineers will give the bridges a closer inspection as the ground continues to shift--including the Orange Crush, one of the Southland’s busiest interchanges.

Officials said they were confident that the faulty welds on the interchange withstood the temblor.

“If there’s a problem, then the signs will pop out at you right off the bat,” Caltrans state spokesman Jim Drago said. If any of the welds had ruptured, he said, concrete would have spilled out.

The biggest traffic headache occurred on the hilly Ortega Highway, where chunks of rocks and rubble rained down on the roadway. “All it took was a street sweeper to go through,” Orem said. “There wasn’t any damage to any of the structures.”

Gas company employees also were kept busy, with about 100 calls within the first three hours of the quake, mostly from concerned customers, said Michael Stark, spokesman for Southern California Gas.


“We had installed earthquake valves to a number of homes,” Stark said. “What that does is it shuts off the gas automatically when there is an earthquake, which is what happened. And we’ve gotten calls to reset those.”

Others feared that the earthquake might have caused gas leaks in their homes and wanted a technician to check on it. Aside from minor repairs, there were no serious problems with gas lines, Stark said.

The San Onofre Nuclear Power plant outside San Clemente continued operating, uninterrupted, through the quake, Conroy said.

The earthquake was described by residents as a rolling sensation followed by jolts that lasted a few seconds.

Williamson, of Los Alamitos, was in bed at the time and said he “just stayed in bed and rolled with it until it was over.”

“It started out very gradually and built a little bit, then there was a couple of jolts in the middle before it eased out again,” said Williamson.


“We have a pool in the backyard and we could hear the water sloshing back and forth,” he said. “Some doors in our house were loose and we heard them shutting. But other than that, nothing fell off the shelf or anything like that.”

David Feign, 76, who lives outside Tustin, was in his kitchen getting something to drink when the ground shook underneath him.

“I just stood there and waited for it to stop,” he said. “My wife was sleeping in the bedroom. She slept right through it.”


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