Near the epicenter, jittery residents tell of quake’s power

David Serrano was at home in Guadalupe Victoria, Mexico, watching a Star Trek movie with his 3-year-old daughter when the room began to shake.

At first, he thought it was one of the mini-quakes that had occasionally rattled his town for the last few months. Temblors as big as 4.4, with their epicenters as close as 11 miles away, had been going off all morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

But Serrano quickly realized this one was different. The television went dark. And the shaking intensified.

He hollered for his girlfriend, grabbed their daughter and ran into the yard. They stumbled as the earth moved beneath them. It was a 7.2 -- more powerful than the 1994 Northridge quake. It shook all of northwest Mexico and was felt as far away as Bakersfield and Las Vegas.

Serrano and his family were about 16 miles from the epicenter.

He looked down the street and saw an old, abandoned building collapse.

Guadalupe Victoria, an agricultural town of 16,000 people, wasn’t known for much before the earthquake. In the first several hours after the quake, news reports focused primarily on damage in downtown Mexicali, on the U.S. border about 30 miles away. But on the map, no town is closer to the center of Sunday’s earthquake.

Given its location, Guadalupe Victoria seems to have fared surprisingly well -- though Baja California state justice officials reached by phone said the full extent of damage has yet to be determined. Around town, windows broke and streets, bridges and irrigation canals suffered damage, they said.

“It’s been difficult trying to get from one place to another,” said Jose Isla Barra, who works at the state justice department’s office in Guadalupe Victoria.

Serrano, a carpenter who works in Calexico on the U.S. side of the border, said by telephone that all the houses on his street remained upright. He noticed that the wall of the tiny baseball stadium came down. And on one street, he could see into an apartment whose wall had crumbled.

Without electricity or water, most stores remained closed Sunday night. People lined up at a hot dog stand that his girlfriend’s parents run. They cook with gas and quickly sold out, even though hot dogs were not what many of their customers had planned for Easter supper.

Six hours after the quake, there was still no water or power, although phone lines remained intact.

Serrano described the streets as more crowded than usual, as fear kept people outside their homes.

The aftershocks kept coming -- dozens of them. “There goes another one,” he said.

He said that he and his family, like many residents, were planning to sleep in their cars Sunday night in case a bigger quake was on the way.