April 4 marks 10th anniversary of Easter earthquake when community came together.
IMPERIAL VALLEY — Remember that horror movie where the protagonist is scared to death and can’t move?
Ten years ago, that was Calexico resident Morris
Reisen and his nephew, both of whom felt that same terror where they could
barely stand as they heard the rumbling and felt the ground moving beneath
As if on a boat, shifting back and forth, they slowly
managed to run outside of the building they were in April 4, 2010, onto the
street to safety.
On a sunny Easter Sunday afternoon, a magnitude-7.2
earthquake centered southeast of Mexicali at Cerro Prieto, rolled through the
region, laying waste to buildings and critical infrastructure like water
treatment facilities, roads, public buildings and private homes through
Imperial County and the Mexicali Valley.
As Imperial County residents contend with a new
potential disaster with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, several public officials
remembered where they were and what they were doing when the historic
earthquake rattled nerves and changed lives 10 years ago.
While no loss of life was recorded from the quake in
Imperial County, the temblor did a number on cities throughout the Imperial
Calexico Gets Hit Hard
Reisen, a merchant in downtown Calexico for many years,
had never experienced such a catastrophe. Once the initial earthquake stopped,
he said he headed down to his store and witnessed glass breaking everywhere and
ceiling tiles falling.
Still shocked by the damage to his store, Sports
International, the retired merchant and current Calexico City Council member, received
a call from the city that the Police Department was at his house due to a
broken gas pipe that was whistling.
The neighborhood block was evacuated, and fortunately
no one was injured.
After securing his home, Reisen went back to the
store. He was devastated to see the damage to downtown Calexico.
“The city ordered fences to block the streets and we
(merchants) weren’t allowed to go into stores for a couple of days until
inspectors saw the damage and were given the OK to reopen,” Reisen said during
a recent interview.
Security guards and traffic control officers were
present to ensure looting was not taking place. The merchants also banded
together, cruising around downtown, protecting their livelihood.
As families and friends were gathered that fateful
afternoon enjoying carne asada, grilled chicken, Easter egg hunts, the tranquility
was disrupted by horrendous shaking.
Former Calexico City Council member Victor Carrillo
remembers barbecuing in his own backyard with friends and family, and everyone
making eye contact frantically. He said people were grabbing their babies, some
were taking the elderly outside or to a safe location, some huddled under a
doorway or table riding out what seemed to be a never-ending quake.
As a city official — Carrillo was mayor at the time
— after determining his family and house were safe, Carrillo excused himself
and went to the emergency command center at the Calexico Fire Department where
designated representatives from cities, counties, fire department, and other
officials met as part of the emergency protocol. Thereafter, different teams
were dispersed to assess damage.
“There was a lot of structural damage, but of utmost
important was our seniors who were evacuated from the De Anza Hotel in Calexico,”
Reisen remembered. “We needed to relocate them temporarily because the building
was unsafe for occupancy. Some had family and some didn’t. Some hotels such as
Holiday Inn Express and John Jay helped us.”
Calexico had the most damage due to its unreinforced
masonry buildings constructed in the 1930s to 1950s, which are now required to
meet updated safety codes, stated John Moreno, who was mayor pro-tem at the
Many city areas were damaged. Calexico has vacant lots
where buildings had to be torn down. Some buildings were rebuilt, and some two-story
buildings had to be leveled to one story. It was millions of dollars of damage
to the city, Moreno stated.
Serious damages occurred to infrastructure all over
Drew Road off Interstate 8 had substantial damage and
was closed for months due to the road being ripped apart and left with a gaping
As indicated in the U.S. Geological Survey’s report,
“Liquefaction and Other Ground Failures in Imperial County, California, from
the April 4, 2010, El Mayor-Cucapah Earthquake,” there appeared to be
liquefaction-related damage to several public facilities such as the Calexico
Wastewater Treatment Plant, Fig Lagoon levee system and Sunbeam Lake Dam in
El Centro Official Remembers
As the city
of El Centro assessed its damage, officials in the county seat found the
biggest concern was for the number of residents in mobile home parks where
their homes had literally shifted off the foundation and could no longer be
occupied, said Cheryl Walker, mayor of El Centro at the time and still a member
of City Council.
(El Centro) took an active role to help residents qualify for assistance
through FEMA or some other safety net. But the biggest challenge was the mobile
properties — the homeowners did not have clear title and could not get a
conventional loan for repairs. The biggest struggle was to fix the foundations
and re-shelter everyone as quickly as possible,” Walker said recently.
issue was some apartment complexes had parking underneath, and the parking
structures were damaged and could not be occupied, Walker remembered.
irreparable structural damage, the El Centro Public Library was unable to be saved.
Although it had a fairly modern addition, portions of the building were more
than a half a century old at the time of the quake.
was relocated to a temporary space off Imperial Avenue.
very little FEMA assistance — extraordinarily disappointing as a lot of damage
to the library was disallowed. The whole process was frustrating and didn’t
even come anywhere close to recovering the costs. That’s why it took a while to
reopen,” Walker said.
“We had to
wait for Measure P (a voter-approved half-cent sales tax) for funding. A new
library will be built with its opening during the latter part of 2021 at about
$20 million through Measure P sales tax revenue,” Walker explained recently.
She added the
old water tower on Eighth Street Avenue and Vine Street in El Centro was an
iconic structure that had to be razed.
“It was hard,
it was (an iconic) symbol,” Walker said.
iconic building that saw its demise due to the earthquake was the old Presbyterian
Church, Walker said.
absolutely beautiful. And it was with a heavy heart when Christ Community (Church,
which purchased the building) said there was no way they could save the
building,” she said.
campus of El Centro Regional Medical Center had some damage but not enough to
interrupt patient care. However, the medical office building adjacent
to the main campus was damaged and had to be torn down and replaced.
and wastewater facilities were damaged, but emergency repairs were done and reinforcement
and some components pieces needed to be repaired. By and large we came through
and continued with little downtime,” Walker said.
Coming Together to Assist
Although Imperial Valley had extensive damage,
fortunately no serious injuries were immediately reported.
With a disaster of this magnitude, it was critical all
parties come together on next steps, officials said.
“When a disaster hits, people come together, and
Calexico was no exception. Through donations and other assistance, the
community came together,” Carrillo said. In addition, the Calexico Chamber of
Commerce encouraged residents to buy locally.
Carrillo gives credit to local, state and federal first
responders — most under direction of then-Imperial County Fire Chief Peter
Mercado — “it was a total team effort.”
FEMA did come out and did surveys and meetings, but
the financial support took a long time, Carrillo said.
Carrillo said the city was “very grateful for those
merchants who rebuilt and moved on. Community should recognize this and provide
support to them as a sign of gratitude. The general funds (of the city) rely on
sales tax along with property tax.”
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Congressman Juan Vargas and Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez were just a few of the
notable local, state, and federal officials who came to see the damage and to
give a message of hope to provide funding and support.
Scientific Discoveries Made, Preparedness Taken Seriously
Geologists and geophysicists who studied the April 2010
quake for scientific discoveries called the quake a “very unique one.”
“Everything about this earthquake was new and
different,” said Dr. Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological
Survey’s Earthquake Science Center in Pasadena in a 2015 interview.
He was among the principal investigators in analyzing
the quake and publishing studies in its aftermath. He said discoveries
made in the Easter quake helped scientists develop models and refine the state
of California’s early-warning quake system, which is in use on a limited basis
“This earthquake opened our eyes to earthquake
behavior we have not seen before,” he said. The report also credits the quake
for unlocking several secrets and proving numerous theories about what major
earthquakes are capable of and how they behave.
A quake of such magnitude also brought being prepared
a bit closer to home.
should be prepared to last a minimum of three to five days at home without
having to go out and purchase anything (food, water, meds, pet food, etc.), to
shelter in place without any support from anyone; second, assume you will have
no power (have flashlights, radio, alternative ways to cook); and third, have
an emergency contact person outside the Valley to contact,” Walker said.