California braces for the Big One, with fake quake
Burbank, California (AFP) Oct 21, 2010
Choppers clattering in the sky above, bloodstained students watch in shock as blaring ambulances screech into the schoolyard, disgorging paramedics with medicine packs and gurneys.
At least that's what it looked like, as one California school put on a graphic display Thursday of what will happen when -- not if -- the Big One hits this earthquake-prone western US state.
Nearly eight million Californians were signed up for Thursday's drill, the most ever, after 6.9 million took part last year. Thousands of schools, businesses and other organizations took part.
The show was given added drama as a real 6.9 temblor struck a few hundred miles to the south, in Mexico's Baja California peninsula, although nothing was felt over the border in the US.
"At some point our luck is going to run out," said leading seismologist Lucy Jones of the US Geological Survey after the fake quake put on by Providence High School in the film-making town of Burbank just north of Los Angeles.
The display -- co-organised with a neighboring medical centre -- was put on as millions took part in the annual "Great California ShakeOut" to help people prepare for what experts say is the inevitable.
At exactly 10:21 am (1701 GMT) alarms sounded across the state and the Providence School schoolchildren dived under their desks, following the so-called "Drop, Cover, Hold On" quake response mantra.
Under the procedure, everyone has to get down on the ground, crawl under the nearest table or other cover, and hold on tight until the earth stops moving -- which can take anything up to a couple of minutes.
"I didn't get down quick enough, and got hurt," explained 15-year-old Genna Amado, displaying a scarred cheek and bloodied arm, the product of gory make-up which would make Burbank's nearby Universal Film Studies proud.
"I think this kind of drill is very important, because it helps you realise how serious the danger is," added her schoolfriend Bryan Hofilena, also 15, with a huge blue bruise across half of his face.
Earthquakes are regular events in California, mostly triggered by activity along the San Andreas fault which runs through much of the western state, the most populous in the United States.
Geologists say an earthquake capable of causing widespread destruction is 99 percent certain of hitting California within the next 30 years.
Studies have said that a 7.8 magnitude quake could kill 1,800 people, injure 50,000 more and damage 300,000 buildings.
A 6.7 earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994 left at least 60 people dead and did an estimated 10 billion dollars damage, while a 6.9 quake in San Francisco in 1989 claimed the lives of 67 people.
A moderate 5.4 earthquake shook southern California in July, swaying high-rise buildings in Los Angeles and San Diego and rattling nerves but causing only minimal damage.
earlier related report
There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, though Civil Defense officials were still checking remote locations in the region, Mexican media reported.
The quake struck at 11:53 am (1753 GMT) at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), the USGS said.
The epicenter was in the Sea of Cortez between the coast of the Mexican mainland and the southern end of the Baja peninsula, 105 kilometers (65 miles) south of the city of Los Mochis and 140 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of La Paz, Baja California, the USGS said.
Prior to Thursday's quake, a series of at least seven earthquakes rattled northern Mexico overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, ranging in magnitude from 3.3 to 5.8, the US Geological Survey said.
The 5.8 quake struck at 12:58 am (0658 GMT Wednesday), centered 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of Guamuchil in Sinaloa state. It had a depth of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers).
All the quakes hit the Gulf of California region, except for a magnitude 3.3 event in Baja California.
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