SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) _ Mayor Mardi Wormhoudt had planned a party this fall in the heart of her city. But now's not the time for revelry - rubble and ruin surround her.

The downtown of this coastal community is littered with caved-in buildings, shattered windows and piles of brick - stark tesimony to 15 seconds of nature's fury.

One week ago, the earthquake struck Santa Cruz, but if the shock is over, the painful reality is just settling in for the mayor.

''It's really hard and gets harder each time I see it,'' she said, her eyes brimming with tears as she surveyed the ravaged Pacific Garden Mall, the downtown business district.

''This week people are really taking care of each other,'' she said. ''Next week, we're not the media's favorite, their 15-second sound bite. Everyone will go away. And we'll settle in the long haul putting it back together.''

Rebuilding is a far cry from what this community of 50,000 had planned for this fall. In a few weeks, Santa Cruz was supposed to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the mall, several blocks of shops and offices in renovated wood and stucco buildings.

''This was a dying downtown, this was a downtown that had lost its vitality,'' the mayor said. ''People had creativity and vsion,'' rebuilding and renovatng, adding greenery and pedestrian-only areas, benches and outdoor cafes.

Instead of celebrating, the city is mourning the three people who died here a week ago and trying to assess the damage. Thirty percent of the stores may be lost in this business district, part of which is cordoned off with yellow police tape.

That's just part of the devastation. Total quake damage in Santa Cruz has been estimated at $160 million - about two-thirds of it private property.

Still, the mayor - serving a rotating one-year term from City Council - is confident the city can rebound and the business core can be rebuilt. But she said timing is critical.

''It's going to take massive infusion of assistance from every level of government to get the city back on its feet again,'' she said. ''If that help isn't immediate, it's not going to do any good. These are people that can't stay shut six to 12 months. It's got to be now.''

The mayor conveyed that message to President Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, who made separate trips to Santa Cruz in recent days.

Business leaders are already talking about setting up temporary headquarters for merchants. ''There's a lot more cooperative spirit then there was on Monday,'' the day before the quake, said Louie Rittenhouse, president of the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz. ''Everybody has put their other problems behind them.''

But anxiety remains, especially among some small merchants near the mall. ''We were a flea on the hide of the elephant,'' Lillian Smith Kaiser said to explain her used bookstore's relationship to the mall. ''Now the elephant's gone. Will people come back? What will they come back to?''

The mall, along with the wharf, beach and boardwalk, are among the many attractions in a community that evokes images of the '60s. It's not uncommon to see pony-tailed men in tie-dyed shirts or a rainbow-painted Volkswagen bus cruising the streets.

''We're a time-warped kind of town,'' said resident Russell Kane.

It's also a university community, with the University of California at Santa Cruz, and politically active.

''There's a protest going on all the time here,'' said Joyce Ulrich. ''Whatever your cause is, it's OK.''

And the mall was not only the business core, but a social congregating spot.

''It's heartbreaking,'' said Laura Martin. ''Some of us will be forced into a totally new lifestyle.''

''It certainly will never be the same, all those wonderful little stores,'' said Smith Kaiser. ''The old lady won't be recognizable anymore. She'll get a new dress.''

But that's not necessarily bad, said Rittenhouse, who lost four buildings in the quake.

''The mall,'' he said, ''is going to come back bigger and better. The majority of them (merchants) are pretty tough people. They're already saying tell us when we can come in to pick up the pieces so we can start over again.''