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Strong Earthquake Kills at Least 2 in California - 2003-12-22

At least two people died in the city of Paso Robles, California, when an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 struck the region Monday. The quake was felt as far south as Los Angeles and as far north as San Francisco.

The quake struck at 11:16 in the morning and was centered near San Simeon, 300 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles. The deaths occurred in nearby Paso Robles, where part of a 19th century building in the town square collapsed.

Sergeant Bob Adams, a local police official, said "our initial reports include a couple of downtown buildings that have collapsed, and possibly having people trapped inside the structures, along with some gas leaks and some water line breakage."

Hearst Castle, a tourist attraction once owned by publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, also suffered some damage and was evacuated.

From San Francisco to Los Angeles, residents described feeling a rolling motion.

A series of aftershocks followed the quake. But resident Joyce Hamley said most damage came from the first jolt. She works in a wine shop in Cambria, 16 kilometers north of the epicenter. "Here in our little store, everything in a glass bottle is on the floor, and we kind of smell like a distillery, I think, with all the wine," she said.

There are reports of possible injuries at a nearby winery.

The largest populated area to suffer the brunt of quake was the city of San Luis Obispo. "We felt a major jolt, to the point that there were plenty of items falling on the walls, people screaming," said one resident.

Sergeant Pete Hodgkins, with the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Department, said "we felt it here. It was pretty solid. We have damage. We have roadway damage on the highway, we have one hospital that's reporting damage. However, they are up and running and accepting people at the emergency room."

Scientists say this was a major earthquake, but luckily it occurred in a lightly populated region. A nearby nuclear power plant reported no damage.