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Strong Quake Jolts Northern California

March 31, 1986

FREMONT, Calif. (AP) _ Skyscrapers swayed, bottles crashed from store shelves and people and parakeets were shaken from their slumber Monday as a strong earthquake, the third temblor in as many days, hit Northern California.

Damage was not serious and only a few minor injuries were reported from the quake, which hit at 3:56 a.m. and was estimated to measure 5.3 or 5.6 on the Richter scale. Scientists put the epicenter about 15 miles southeast of Fremont, some 50 miles southeast of San Francisco.

″My birds started screaming just before it happened,″ said Valerie Wirth, 21, of Hayward. ″My little parakeet started it and the parrots joined in. They can sense it happening, just before earthquakes and storms. But my husband slept through it.″

John Skeets, manager of the Lucky Food Center in south Fremont, said more than 300 jars and bottles were smashed, 14 ceiling tiles fell and a crack appeared in a concrete wall of the 3-month-old store.

″Two guys on the night crew were stocking in the pickle section when all the pickle jars started falling,″ he said. ″They cleared out of there real fast.″

″This quake is a reminder that the earth’s crust around here is very active,″ said Robert E. Wallace, chief scientist of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Office of Earthquake Studies.

″It may be several decades before we have a quake like the one in 1906, but quakes like today’s can do a lot of damage if they hit populated areas,″ said Wallace.

The 1906 earthquake killed more than 2,000 people, destroyed 28,000 buildings and left more than 225,000 people homeless.

The University of California Seismographic Station at Berkeley estimated Monday’s quake at 5.3 on the open-ended Richter scale. The state Office of Emergency Services estimated the Richter reading at 5..

By noon, 230 aftershocks had been recorded, the strongest a 3.4 at 5:05 a.m., said Edna King at the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park.

″We don’t find any particular significance to it, no,″ said Rick McKenzie, staff research associate at Berkely, when asked if the series of three quakes and swarms of aftershocks was important in forecasting future temblors.

After Monday’s initial shock, thousands of people were without power for short periods as electric lines snapped.

″My stereo came down,″ said Richard Ahn. ″Fifteen hundred bucks. Fortunately, the windows didn’t break. We heard some noise and shaking, then the electricity went out. We were scared.″

″My wife felt it first,″ said Greg Madrid, 34, who lives in an apartment in Fremont near where the wires broke. ″We have a waterbed and it started rolling. She screamed and I woke up. Then we saw two bright blue flashes and everything went dark.″

The tremor rocked the 24-story building in San Francisco where The Associated Press bureau is located.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said the outages affected about 7,500 people in San Jose and about 1,800 in Fremont.

The temblor reportedly was felt as far north as Santa Rosa and as far south as San Luis Obispo, a range of about 350 miles.

It was the strongest quake to hit Northern California since Jan. 26, when a temblor of 5.5 on the Richter scale jolted the Hollister area about 120 miles south of San Francisco.

Alexian Brothers Hospital in San Jose reported three minor injuries. The victims, who suffered cuts or were hit by objects falling in their homes, were treated and released. Two other people were treated at Washington Hospital in Fremont, including a woman who broke her toe leaping out of bed.

The quake smashed hundreds of bottles at newly opened Abe’s Liquors in Fremont, and owner Abe Sousa has no earthquake insurance.

″I came down at 4:15 a.m. and saw all the bottles broken,″ Sousa said. ″But we didn’t have any power, so I went back home.″

At SyQuest Technology, half a dozen wooden structural beams suffered cracks, some as long as 15 feet. But inspectors said the factory, which makes computer disk drives, is in no danger of collapse and could open for business.

The building also suffered cracked walls and a minor gas leak.

″It was a long, rolling motion,″ said San Francisco Police dispatcher Irene Voorhees, who said the switchboard was jammed with callers. Police also reported numerous false calls from burglar alarms triggered by the shaking.

The quake was felt at least as far east as Stockton, about 75 miles east of San Francisco. ″It woke me up and sloshed the water in my swimming pool,″ said Jim Hushaw, managing editor of the Stockton Record.

The Richter scale measures the energy released by quakes as measured by ground motion. Each increase of one number indicates a ten-fold increase in ground motion. Thus, a quake of 5.0 has 10 times the ground motion of a temblor with a magnitude of 4.0. An earthquake with a 5.6 magnitude is capable of causing extensive damage.

Monday’s earthquake followed a moderate one Saturday morning that measured 4.0 on the Richter scale, according to the University of California, and a slight temblor of 2.2 on Sunday night.

The great San Francisco earthquake on April 18, 1906, took place before the Richter scale was developed, but has since been calculated to have had a force of 8.3. At least 2,010 people were killed in that earthquake, according to San Francisco archivist Gladys Hansen.

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