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Quake Rocks Southern California

October 16, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A magnitude-7.0 earthquake centered in the Southern California desert shook buildings from downtown Los Angeles to Las Vegas and Phoenix early today and knocked an Amtrak train off its tracks. There were no reports of serious injuries or major damage.

Up to 90,000 utility customers lost power, 20 mobile homes were knocked off pilings in a desert community and a highway bridge was cracked, but the 2:46 a.m. earthquake caused little more than incidental damage in the huge population centers to the west and south.

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief en route from Chicago to Los Angeles derailed in the Mojave Desert near Ludlow, more than 125 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The passenger cars remained upright.

Four of the 155 passengers on the 25-car train suffered minor injuries.

``I was sleeping. It felt like the train jumped off the track ... and I fell out of bed,″ said Colleen Broome, who suffered a separated shoulder when the train derailed.

``Our saving grace was, we were following a freight train,″ said Glenn Morton, the train’s conductor. ``We were going 60 mph instead of the 80 mph we normally would do through here.″

All the homes in a Ludlow mobile home park were shoved off their foundations.

``I just laid there and covered my head until it was over,″ said gas station clerk Mary Vintes.

The quake was centered 32 miles north of Joshua Tree, 100 miles east of Los Angeles, according to the California Institute of Technology. Aftershocks rolled through the region for hours, including a 5.8 and a 5.3 among more than a dozen of magnitude-4 or greater.

The earthquake was felt across hundreds of miles of Southern California and at least as far away as Phoenix. With a preliminary magnitude of 7.0, it was more than strong enough to cause major destruction but was centered in a remote area with few structures or residents.

``That was a bad one. Things are bouncing around all over. But we are all right,″ Lucille Manning said from her home in Chino, east of downtown Los Angeles.

The earthquake woke up tourists in Las Vegas, more than 150 miles from the epicenter.

``I wasn’t sure what it was,″ said John Fabian, who was staying on the 18th floor of the Mirage Hotel. ``My wife hit me and said we’ve got to get ... out of here.″

Fabian’s wife, Michele, added: ``The whole place was shaking like crazy.″

Authorities in Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area said there were no reports of serious damage or injuries. Authorities received a few calls from frightened people who were curious about damage.

``Most people just slept right through it,″ said Lt. Rich Paddock of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. ``It shook everything pretty good, but that was about it.″

The effects of the earthquake were more pronounced near the epicenter.

California Highway Patrol dispatcher Joe Serrano in Barstow said a bridge on Interstate 40 was heavily damaged but the freeway remained open.

Jacob Naylor, night manager at the Joshua Tree Inn, said the structure lost power but there was no sign of damage.

``Twelve guests, all definitely awake. A couple in from Holland, definitely shocked. A couple in from the U.K. asked me, `Is this normal?‴ Naylor said. ``They’re all taking it rather well, kind of excited. Vacationers, new experiences, what can I say?″

The Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree was relying on emergency power, as was the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s station.

Gerri Hagman, owner of the Homestead Inn in Twentynine Palms, near the epicenter, said she had a lot of broken dishes and things thrown off shelves. She couldn’t see any structural damage.

``I’m a native Californian and I’ve been in a lot of them; this was a whopper,″ Hagman said.

A Twentynine Palms supermarket had structural and water damage, a tree fell on a trailer home and there were several natural gas leaks, said Fire Chief Wayne Eder.

Water and gas lines broke at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, but no injuries or major damage were reported, said Gunnery Sgt. Leah Gonzalez.

``I live in town, and my house was rocking and rolling,″ Gonzalez said. ``We were diving for the door frames.″

In Ridgecrest, a small community about 250 miles north of Los Angeles, groceries toppled from shelves and awoke residents, but officials said there were no reports of damage or injuries.

``I was asleep and shaken out of bed,″ said Rachel Holden, an editor at the Ridgecrest Daily Independent.

On Jan. 17, 1994, a 6.7-magnitude quake struck the Northridge area of Los Angeles, killing 72 people and causing an estimated $40 billion in damage.

``The level of shaking is comparable to what was experienced in Northridge,″ said Lucy Jones, a seismologist with U.S. Geological Survey at Caltech. ``The good news is that there are fewer people out there.″