LANDERS, Calif. (AP) _ This dusty home to retirees and desert rats found itself waterless and in flames on Sunday - ground zero in the largest California earthquake in 40 years.

The quake struck at 4:58 a.m. and measured 7.4 on the Richter scale. About 8:05 a.m. a separate quake estimated at magnitude 6.5 rolled through the region amid aftershocks of the first quake.

The first temblor knocked out power, water and telephone service to the remote high desert community of about 5,500.

Landers, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, is about half retirees. Its sparse homes front dirt roads. The surrounding, sage-dotted Mojave Desert is speckled with Joshua trees.

Water trucks were brought in after the quake lifted a three-story-high metal water tank off the ground and dumped it back, denting it like an old beer can and snapping a large water main.

About 500,000 gallons of water spewed onto the sand. The water served about 5,000 people in a 40-square-mile area.

After the tank burst, a newly built house across the street caught fire, apparently from a ruptured propane tank. Firefighters had to let it burn to the ground for lack of water, said Stephen Hearn, president of the Landers Area Chamber of Commerce.

''It's hard to believe, isn't it?'' he said.

Hearn said he saw four fires burning in homes and mobile homes. He said he tried to inspect the water tank, but his car got caught in a fissure in the dirt road and neighbors had to help pull it out.

In other places, water mains were cracked and broken.

''It took one big shake to do this,'' said Thomas Bulone, vice president of the Bighorn Desert View Water Agency, which supplies Landers and surrounding communities.

Five other tanks survived the shaking.

At Halliday Liquor Store, people lined up five and 10 deep in a daylong vigil to buy beer, bottled water and ice.

Halliday was the only store open in at least a 15-mile radius, and the roads out of Landers were buckled and cracked by the earthquake, making them virtually impassable for most of the day.

With the temperature exceeding 100, the store did brisk business as clerks stepped over piles of toppled cans and boxes to reach rapidly warming drinks in the out-of-commission refrigerator.

Judy Reil, who works in the store, came outside for a cigarette.

''All the broken liquor bottles were making me lightheaded,'' she said.

Ms. Reil said she had lived in the desert for six years, and it would take more than two earthquakes to chase her away.

''Up here, this brings neighbors closer together,'' she said. ''Times like this, people check on each other and that's good.''